Next month is the 50th Anniversary of the Equal Pay Act. And this week Vermont is showing policymakers around the country the best way to mark that day: fixing the equal pay laws. Vermont’s governor has signed a new, comprehensive equal pay law that targets a range of factors that contribute to the wage gap.
The new law takes care of some of the loop holes in Vermont’s equal pay statute, requiring that employers must have business reasons for paying workers unequal wages.
It also improves the process for ensuring that state government contractors are paying fair wages. And it goes after the pay penalty paid by mothers as well – it provides protections for new mothers who must express breast milk for their babies at work and includes protections for employees who request flexible work arrangements. It also sets the stage for a future paid family leave law in Vermont.
Finally, it importantly bans retaliation against employees who talk about their wages.
As this new law shows, there are real solutions to address the wage gap.
And some of these sound policies may sound a bit familiar. That’s because many of the provisions in Vermont’s new law are reflected in the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was reintroduced this year in both the House and the Senate.
With women making almost 87 percent of men’s wages in Vermont, it has one of the smallest wage gaps in the country. That is true for African American and Hispanic women too, who are paid 79 cents and 72 cents when compared to white, non-Hispanic men. But Vermont policymakers clearly must know that shortchanging women by any amount is bad for everyone– it means less money for Vermont women and their families for key items like groceries, student loan payments, and child care.
Earlier this year New Mexico updated its equal pay laws in critical ways. And Vermont has now thrown down the gauntlet with its new equal pay law. It’s a challenge that I hope policymakers at the federal level and in states around the country will take.