Today is the day to which women—across race, ethnicity, and industry—have to work in 2018 to make what the average man earned in 2017. A lot of us will spend today talking about the wage gap and the myriad ways women have long been and still are systematically shortchanged at work. We will find new ways to cut and analyze the wage gap numbers to drive home just how economically devastating the wage gap is to women and families in hopes that employers and lawmakers will be driven to action. Many lawmakers across the country will undoubtedly introduce resolutions, as they do every year, declaring today to be Equal Pay Day and proclaiming that we can wait no longer to close the wage gap.
And then there are those lawmakers who have decided that they will actually wait no longer. They have had enough of Equal Pay Day and don’t want to just resolve it away, but are actively working to change our laws so that we will never have to recognize this day again. Legislators in Rhode Island are among them. Today, the Rhode Island Senate is voting on two incredibly important equal pay bills—S. 2475 and S. 2638. These bills include some of the most important and most urgently needed tools for closing the wage gap.
- S. 2475 strengthens Rhode Island’s current equal pay law, closing loopholes in the defenses an employer can use to justify an otherwise unlawful pay disparity, ensuring that Rhode Islanders are paid equal pay for “comparable work,” and prohibiting employers from relying on job applicants’ salary history to set pay (yes, that dreaded question). The bill would extend these important equal pay protections beyond discrimination based on sex to other protected characteristics, like race, which are often the basis of pay discrimination. And the bill includes crucial pay transparency measures—like requiring employers to provide a position’s salary range to job applicants and employees and protecting employees who discuss their pay with each other from retaliation—so that pay discrimination doesn’t remain hidden in the shadows, undetected
- S. 2638 will require employers with 100 or more employees to report compensation data about their workforce broken down by sex, race, and ethnicity to the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training. This bill’s reporting requirement is very similar to the equal pay reporting requirement that was supposed to take effect this March across the country, but was abruptly halted by the Trump Administration last August. This bill will shine light on pay disparities and incentivize employers to evaluate their payrolls and correct any unjustified disparities and also help the Department more efficiently conduct outreach and enforcement to close the wage gap.
These bills are not window dressing; they truly have a chance to make a significant impact on the wage gap in Rhode Island—which, quite frankly, is the only way to “celebrate” Equal Pay Day given that Latina women in Rhode Island stand to lose more than $1 million to the wage gap over a 40-year career.
At the same time, what Rhode Island is doing is far from revolutionary. With these bills, Rhode Island is finally joining the national movement for equal pay that is being led by the states. In the last several years, over a dozen states have strengthened their equal pay laws in many of the different ways that Rhode Island is now seeking to strengthen theirs. These efforts have many times garnered bipartisan support from elected officials who recognize that women and their families literally cannot afford to wait for Congress to take action to close the wage gap.
This year, 38 states are considering equal pay bills. In March, Washington state signed into law a strong equal pay bill that updated their equal pay law after 70 long years to close loopholes and protect employees from retaliation for discussing their pay—much like the Rhode Island bill would do. And also in March, New Jersey passed with near unanimous support a strong equal pay bill similar to Rhode Island’s that also requires certain employers to report equal pay data.
These states are celebrating Equal Pay Day in the best way possible, by seeking to eradicate it. Hopefully Rhode Island will join this celebration soon.