PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — It was 1946 when Rhode Island first passed a law making it illegal to pay a woman less than a man for the same work. Seventy-two years later, women working full time in Rhode Island still make only 86 cents to the dollar that her male counterpart makes.
It’s worse for minority women; black women make 58 percent of what their white male counterparts make, and Latinas make only 51 percent.
Saying the law needs to be strengthened to make it more enforceable, Rep. Susan R. Donovan and Rep. Deborah Ruggiero are calling for passage of the Fair Pay Act this year.
The legislation (2018-H 7427), which Representative Donovan introduced and Representative Ruggiero is cosponsoring, would make it illegal to pay workers less than their white, male colleagues without a clearly documented difference in skills.
It clarifies “comparable work,” making it clear that workers need to be paid equally for “substantially similar” work even if every detail is not the same. It bans policies that prevent workers from discussing their pay with each other and removes past salary history as a consideration since discrimination is perpetuated over time by employers relying on past salaries, rather than skills and value, to determine current pay.
It also requires the employer to disclose the salary range for the position. Last year, Massachusetts passed a similar Fair Pay Act, joining cities and companies across the country that are enacting these policies.
“Despite the existing Equal Pay Act, wage discrimination laws are poorly enforced and cases are extremely difficult to prove and win. Stronger legislation such as the Fair Pay Act is needed to ease the burden of filing claims and clarify the right to pay equity,” said Rep. Susan R. Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth).
“Women work just as hard as our counterparts to advance our careers and support our families. If we are serious about economic equality for women and people of color and supporting working families, we need to address the practices that continue to allow employers to discriminate against employees and perpetuate the wage gap.”
The legislation has the support of a coalition that includes the Center for Justice, the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Economic Progress Institute, Jobs with Justice, Planned Parenthood, RI NOW, the Rhode Island Food Bank, SEIU 1199, SEIU 32BJ, Teamsters Local 251, the Women’s Fund of RI and Working Families. It is also part of the Fair Shot Agenda, a set of four legislative solutions being supported by a coalition of House members to address the growing gap between the wealthy and the middle class.
While unequal pay costs the average woman in Rhode Island $7,000 annually, some companies are proactively addressing the pay gap, conducting salary audits and adjusting workers’ pay accordingly. Citigroup Inc. last month pledged to increase pay for women and minorities after discovering a 1-percent difference.
“Many businesses support pay equity because it’s consistent with remaining competitive and it is good business practice to support equal pay for equal work,” said Representative Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown). “These business leaders don’t want their daughters, sisters or wives to experience wage discrimination. It’s discriminatory and this legislation makes it illegal.”