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Once again, Washington state leads the nation on equal pay

OLYMPIA (March 22, 2018) — Washington was one the first states in the union to address the wage gap by passing the Equal Pay Act in 1943. On Wednesday, the state made history again by adding additional provisions aimed at closing the gap between what women and men are paid as Gov. Jay Inslee, surrounded by with lawmakers, advocates and supporters, signed the Equal Pay Opportunity Act into law.

Legislators from both sides of the aisle, community members, business leaders, students and representatives from supporting organizations including MomsRising, Washington Technology Industry Association, Economic Opportunity Institute, Legal Voice, UFCW, and the Washington State Labor Council attended the bill signing ceremony.

“With this bill, Washington state is not only updating our 75-year-old equal pay law, but once again leading the country with equal pay policy,” said Rep. Tana Senn (D-Mercer Is.), prime sponsor of HB 1506 and longtime advocate for women’s rights. “Protecting women from bias in career advancement opportunities is a new step to help battle equal pay disparities.”

Today, a white woman working full time in Washington state makes 76.5 cents to the dollar that her male counterpart earns. Women of color fare worse: African American, 61.1 cents; Native American, 59.8; and Latinas, 46.3.

“It’s unfortunate we have to even have this debate and legislation that makes it clear that equal pay for equal work is the right thing to do and, thanks to this bill, now it is the law,” Inslee said.

HB 1506 will allow employees to talk about their earnings with co-workers and ask for equal pay, without fear of backlash or retaliation. The measure offers remedies for employees who are paid less for similar work on the basis of gender.

The legislation also ensures employees receive access to equivalent career advancement opportunities, regardless of gender. Providing fair access to career growth opportunities will help put women and men on equal footing for promotions within a company and further women’s upward mobility.

“This legislation was a long time in coming,” said Lynne Dodson, Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “It isn’t perfect, but it addresses wage and opportunity gaps in ways that haven’t happened in this state, or in most states, before. It’s especially fitting at this point in time when women are powerfully fighting back against sexual harassment and discrimination. If we all attend to this new legislation, and it’s improved upon at the local level, it could help usher in a new era of equality.”

“Our heartfelt thanks go to Representative Senn and the other state legislators who persistently pursued this historic legislation,” she added.

Rep. Tana Senn introduced and successfully passed a version of this bill in the House only to see it die in a Republican-led Senate three years in a row. This year, the House passed it on a 70-28 vote and, with Democrats back in the majority, it passed the Senate on a 36-12 vote.

The Equal Pay Opportunity Act updates the state’s equal pay law for the first time since its inception by, among other things:

  • Setting the standard of “similarly employed” as jobs that require similar skill, effort, and responsibility, and are performed under similar working conditions
  • Prohibiting employers from imposing pay secrecy policies
  • Preventing discrimination by gender in providing career advancement opportunities
  • Banning employers from retaliating against employees who file complaints, discuss wages or seek advancement opportunities
  • Ensuring employees are entitled to administrative and civil remedies in the event of violations.

During the legislative process, advocates were concerned that the legislation could be watered-down by adding preemption provisions. Fortunately, the final legislation signed by the governor does not prohibit local governments from adopting and enforcing their own anti-discrimination measures.

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