What’s that sound? It’s the sound of cheers and applause coming from women and their allies across Washington State.
Why are we cheering? Because the Equal Pay Opportunity Act (HB 1646) just passed the Washington State House, with bipartisan support (55-43). The bill, if it passes through the Senate this session, will provide workers with key protections and help close the gender wage gap. The Act:
- Protects employee communication about compensation and job opportunities, and clarifies that all employees can ask their employer why they are being paid less or don’t have the same access to career opportunities as others.
- Adds being denied more favorable jobs or career tracks because of gender, in addition to pay discrimination, as a cause of civil action.
- Strengthens existing enforcement by requiring a valid business reason related to the job – such as education, training, or experience – for a gender disparity in pay, hiring, work assignments, or career track; and by providing for recovery of damages and expenses in civil suits.
The Equal Pay Opportunity Act is sponsored by Representative Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island), who believes it’s time to move quickly toward gender pay equity. “Even today, women are paid 80 cents for every dollar earned by men for similar work,” said Rep. Senn in her announcement of sponsorship of the legislation.
The Washington Work and Family Coalition, of which the Economic Opportunity Institute is a proud member, has led the way in pressing for the Equal Pay Opportunity Act – and has shown outstanding leadership in working to combat gender discrimination across Washington State.
Marilyn Watkins, Policy Director here at EOI says, “The EPOA will help women get ahead, and also help to change our culture so that women get the pay and opportunities they’ve earned. Our society still consistently undervalues women’s work and contributions, even all these decades after our state banned wage discrimination. Unequal pay leaves big holes in family budgets, makes it harder for local businesses to prosper, and means women get less in retirement, too.”
Thank you to Representative Tana Senn and the 44 other representatives in the House who cosponsored this bill.
We expect the bill to be heard in the Senate in the coming weeks. You can still send your stories and support for the bill to your Senators through the Washington Legislature page.
Women can’t wait for this bill. As Redmond High School student Olivia Roskill reminds us, “women are worth more than spare change.”
By Sam Hatzenbeler, MPHc