Bill package aimed at bridging gender wage gap

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Capital News Service
LANSING — When a Michigan woman asked why she didn’t get promoted over her male counterpart, her employer told her she didn’t need the raise, according to Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, who was told this story by a constituent.
Her less-experienced male colleague had a family to support, the employer said, while the woman employee’s husband made enough money for both of them.
This is a common sentiment among some of the state’s employers, said Mary Pollock, the government relations coordinator for the American Association of University Women of Michigan.
“Still, employers say a married woman doesn’t need to be paid what a married man gets paid,” Pollock said. “But that’s just not true anymore. Both are supporting families, and there are many single-parent households now.”
Marriage is just one of the catalysts for pay disparity between men and women. Maternity leave, child care and career choice are among the other factors putting women at a monetary disadvantage. This disparity is known as the “gender wage gap.”
In Michigan, there was a 26 percent gap in median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers, compared to 20 percent nationally, according to the American Association of University Women.
“It’s ridiculous,” Greig said. “I really thought that by now, companies would know not to discriminate. It’s time to put measures into law.”
Greig, with a group of other Democrats in the House and Senate, has re-introduced a package of 12 bills aimed at ensuring equitable pay in the state.
Similar legislation has been introduced in the Legislature since 1990, including a nearly-identical package last year, but has failed every time.
“We know that there are national and state statistics that show wage disparities,” said Sen. Steven Bieda, D-Warren, a sponsor. “This is an attempt to close the gap.”
Half of the bills in the package would amend the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight and familial or marital status.
Amendments propose creating a pay equity commission within the Department of Civil Rights, extending the statute of limitations for wage disparity lawsuits, requiring employers to inform employees of equal pay laws and preventing employers from asking candidates about past compensation, among others.
“This is an important issue that needs to be addressed, but it’s very complex,” said Mary  Engelman, executive director of the Michigan Women’s Commission in the Department of Civil Rights. “Men and women are equal partners in moving the economy forward together.”
The remaining bills would establish penalties for employers who break equal pay laws, create a pay equity incentives program for employers, and require most employers to post a pay scale and specific job descriptions, among others.
Julie Gafkay, president of Women Lawyers Association of Michigan, said she thinks the package addresses most of her organization’s concerns regarding unequal income distribution.  
The association has a gender equity committee which develops programs and services aimed at reducing gender bias, including incidents of wage discrimination.
“Women Lawyers supports equality for women, so we support the idea of these bills,” Gafkay said. “Regardless of party, if the issue promotes equality for all, our organization’s position is in line with that.”
Pollock said the American Association of University Women  continues to stand in solidarity with this year’s pay equity package.
“We need to update our laws — this package of bills will move in that direction,” Pollock said. “It doesn’t cure all the problems, but it moves in that direction.”
The House bills were referred to the Committee on Commerce and Trade. The Senate bills were referred to the Committee on Government Operations.
According to Pollock, the Senate Ccommittee has been hostile toward equal pay efforts in the past.
“It’s where bills go to be controlled and then to die,” Pollock said. “We are going to work on getting them referred to another committee or get a hearing.”
Another sponsor, Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, said the committee will not stop supporters’ resolve — Republican legislators just need more convincing. He said he hopes citizens will make a case for a hearing.
“If it doesn’t pass, this might be evidence that we need a new Legislature — one that’s more inclusive,” Hertel said. “One with more than four women in the Senate, for example.”

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