By CAITLIN TAYLOR
Capital News Service
LANSING — Many women were forced to take pay cuts to do work they were overqualified for during the economic recession, Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, said.
And now they’re being penalized for it, Greig said.
As women seek new positions, their future salaries or hourly wages are often based on previous compensation — even though their skills and experience would suggest higher pay. This, among other factors, creates a disparity between men and women’s pay known as the “gender wage gap.”
In Michigan, women earned an average of 74 percent of what men made in median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers in 2015, according to the American Association of University Women. That’s worse than the national average of 80 percent.
To bridge this gap, Greig has introduced a bill that would prevent employers from asking candidates about past compensation during the application or interview process. Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, sponsored the same bill in the Senate.
“I strongly believe that Michigan has to do its part to make sure that people who do the same job make the same amount,” Hertel said.
The legislation is a new addition to a 12-bill pay equity package reintroduced by Democrats in the House and Senate.
“I heard about this going on in other states, and I thought, ‘Wow, this makes so much sense,’” Greig said. “So I asked to have it added (to the package) this year.”
Greig said the law would make sense because it would ensure pay is based on skills and experience. The proposed legislation would empower all working Michiganders, she said, but it would particularly help women.
That’s because pay based on past compensation is especially detrimental for women workers, said Julie Gafkay of Frankenmuth, president of Women Lawyers Association of Michigan, since past wages may have been influenced by gender discrimination.
The association has a gender equity committee that develops programs and services aimed at reducing gender bias, including wage discrimination.
In cases where previous pay was influenced by gender discrimination, the gap between men and women’s salary or hourly wage will continue to widen, according to Mary Pollock, the government relations coordinator for the American Association of University Women of Michigan.
When women first enter the workforce between ages 20 and 24, they make about 90 percent of what men make in median weekly earnings, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
By the time women reach age 55-64, they make only 74 percent of what men make in median hourly earnings.
“A lot of employers don’t do it consciously, but they do it,” Pollock said. “And whether it’s intentional or not intentional, it’s happening.”
Some business associations, like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, oppose the legislation.
“It’s easy to assign nefarious motives to employers who are asking candidates prior salary history,” said Wendy Block, the chamber’s director of health policy and human resources. “But the most common reason is to ensure that a given candidate’s salary expectations are in line with the new position.”
The House bill was referred to the Commerce and Trade Committee. The Senate bill was referred to the Government Operations committee.
“We have not had great reception of these (bills) by the majority party, so to actually get a hearing on these bills is going to require women, and men supporting women, to write in and ask for a hearing,” Greig said.
For people interested in requesting a hearing, Commerce and Trade Committee Chair Rep. Eric Leutheuser, R-Hillsdale, can be reached at 517-373-1794 or P.O. Box 30014 of the House Office Building, Lansing MI 48909.
Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, the Government Operations committee chair, can be reached at 517-373-6920 or P.O. Box 30036 of the Capitol Building, Lansing MI 48909.
By CAITLIN TAYLOR