With House Speaker Robert DeLeo throwing his weight behind passing the pay equity bill, the legislation is gaining momentum with less than five weeks before the formal session ends.
After meeting with Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and Governor Charlie Baker on Monday, DeLeo said he was in talks with a number of groups and aimed to have it passed by the end of July.
“I have long supported the concept of pay equity legislation,” he said in a statement to the Globe. “I am committed to bringing an equal pay bill in the coming weeks that I hope will become law.”
The pay equity bill would establish a definition for “comparable work” to ensure that similar jobs have similar pay and prohibit employers from asking a job candidate’s salary history. Because women’s wages are historically lower than men’s, disclosing them can put women at a disadvantage by allowing employers to offer female candidates lower salaries than they might otherwise, proponents of the bill say. Prospective employers could also draw unfair conclusions about why a female applicant’s previous salary is so low.
The bill would also increase fines for pay equity violations from $100 to $1,000 and protect workers who discuss their salaries openly, allowing them to learn about potential gender wage gaps at their own companies.
DeLeo has identified the pay equity bill as a top priority, along with the annual budget, transgender rights legislation, an energy bill, and Baker’s economic development bill.
The focus on the gender wage gap has intensified nationwide, with actresses railing against getting paid less than their male costars and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton laying out an agenda to close the divide. Five members of the US women’s soccer team filed a wage-discrimination claim against the US Soccer federation in March, noting that members of the women’s team are paid about a quarter of what the men earn, despite generating more revenue in recent years.
In Massachusetts, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg in April launched an online wage gap calculator and tool kit to help businesses ensure they are paying women equitably. The City of Boston is also tackling the gender wage gap, gathering payroll data from local businesses broken down by sex, race, job category, and length of employment.
Women working full time in Massachusetts make 82 cents for every $1 men make, earning $11,152 less than men every year on average, according to a study by the National Partnership for Women & Families. Differences in career choices and interruptions during child-rearing years account for some of the gap, but the rest is widely attributed to gender bias.
The bill currently under consideration is more comprehensive than equal pay legislation that has been proposed for more than a decade, and the fact that the new bill has gained so much traction since it was filed early last year is encouraging, backers say.
The legislation is “good for businesses, good for workers, and levels the playing field,” Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement. “There’s more that we need to do close the gap, but this bill is a critically important piece of that puzzle.”
The ability to discuss salaries freely is key, said Sasha Goodfriend, copresident of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization for Women. “Pay secrecy is a huge barrier to women finding out how they are affected by the wage gap,” she said.
Detractors point out that Massachusetts already has a law that prohibits gender-based pay discrimination, the first in the nation when it was passed in 1945. Restricting the ability to determine a candidate’s salary history could make it difficult to meet a potential employee’s needs, they say. The bill could also limit employers ability to reward workers, both male and female, with higher pay.
“The Massachusetts High Technology Council is committed to addressing gender-based wage gaps,” Mark Gallagher, executive vice president of the trade group, said in an e-mail. “But we believe real and meaningful solutions to gender pay differentials cannot be limited to public policy and must include broader initiatives beyond statutory and regulatory changes.”
The business advocacy group Associated Industries of Massachusetts has also come out against the bill but said on Tuesday that discussions are ongoing.
“We’re talking to legislative leadership on the bill, as we do on all the bills that matter to our members,” spokesman Chris Geehern said.