CREDIT: AP/Tom Olmscheid
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) signed a package of bills into law on Sunday aimed at leveling the playing field for women at work. The Women’s Economic Security Act includes nine separate pieces of legislation addressing a wide variety of issues that can confront working women.
One big piece is requiring about 1,000 private businesses that contract with the state to undergo a pay equity analysis that is similar to what all Minnesota governments have to do. The businesses will have to certify that they pay women equally with men when they do similar jobs if they have more than 40 employees and are seeking contracts of at least $500,000. The newly required “equal pay certificate” will be issued to contractors if the “average compensation for its female employees is not consistently below the average compensation for its male employees” in various job categories. Contractors can cite education and experience as reasons for differing pay levels, but if an audit finds that those aren’t the actual causes, then a negotiation process will begin. The package sets aside about $711,000 to ensure that contractors meet this provision with an ongoing cost of about $926,000 a year.
Currently, Minnesota is one of the few states, if not the only state, that conducts a pay equity or comparable pay analysis among all government employees to ensure women and men don’t just make equal pay within the same job, but if they’re doing similar work in different jobs. Governments have to report on their pay scales every three years and correct any inequities that may occur. This process narrowed the gender wage gap among state workers from 69 cents for women for every dollar a man made in 1976 to 84 cents by 1993.
The bill also bans salary secrecy, saying that employers can’t keep workers from discussing pay or retaliate against them if they do. Nearly half of all American employees are either prohibited or strongly discouraged from talking about their pay.
The package requires employers to provide accommodations for pregnant employees so they can stay on the job such as more frequent breaks or taking on light duty if they have lifting restrictions. Despite the fact that the majority of expecting mothers work while pregnant and the majority need some sort of small change to continue doing so, more than a quarter million are denied their requests for an accommodation each year. To better protect them, about seven states have passed Pregnant Workers Fairness Acts like the new law in Minnesota to require companies to give pregnant workers the adjustments they need. Minnesota’s new law also requires them to provide more than a bathroom for nursing mothers to express milk.
The bill also expands leave from work in two ways. It extends the current six weeks of unpaid family leave to 12 weeks and also adds “safety leave” for those who need time off for sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking.
And it includes money to help female entrepreneurs and those who enter “nontraditional” jobs. The cost of the overall package is expected to be about $2.46 million, with much of it going to grants and programs to boost women who start businesses or want to enter new fields.
The entire package was introduced in January and passed last week with bipartisan support.
Minnesota’s comprehensive approach to some of the barriers women face at work has been taken on in other parts of the country. In January, Nebraska lawmakers introduced a package aimed at helping women that included an increase in the minimum wage, paid sick leave, paid family leave, and an expansion of the state Earned Income Tax Credit. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has been pushing state lawmakers to pass his Women’s Equality Agenda that includes accommodation requirements for pregnant workers, a ban on salary secrecy, and an expansion of abortion rights.
Federal lawmakers have also taken this approach. Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) have advocated for an agenda that includes universal childcare, a minimum wage increase, paid sick leave, and the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which bans salary secrecy, among other things. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has proposed a five-point “American Opportunity Plan” with a minimum wage hike, paid family leave, affordable childcare, and the Paycheck Fairness Act.
This tactic gets at the way that different issues impact women at the same time. The lack of paid leave and affordable childcare hurts their earnings and increases the gender wage gap. Women also make up nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers, and raising the minimum wage would help close the pay gap.