How One State Plans To Wipe Out Sexism At Work In A Single Bill

CREDIT: Shutterstock
CREDIT: Shutterstock

On Thursday, Minnesota state lawmakers unveiled the “Women’s Economic Security Act of 2014,” a legislative package “designed to break down barriers to economic progress facing women — and all Minnesotans,” according to the release. Among the pieces of the package are paid sick leave, a raise in the minimum wage to $9.50, and expanding access to high-quality, affordable childcare.

“The Women’s Economic Security Act aims to break down barriers to economic progress so that women — and all Minnesotans — have a fair opportunity to succeed,” Paul Thissen (D), speaker of the Minnesota House, said of the package. It also includes other measures aimed a helping working women. Private companies contracted by the state would be required to report on pay equity among their workers. The state’s Parental Leave Act, which guarantees workers six unpaid weeks off for the arrival of a new child, would be expanded. It would encourage women to enter non-traditional, high-wage occupations and boost small businesses owned by women. And it would bolster existing protections for victims of domestic violence. State Sen. Sandy Pappas (D) and Rep. Carly Melin (D) will be the chief authors of the package.

While other states are working on legislation similar to different pieces of the package, putting them all together is less common but starting to come into vogue. A group of state Senators in Nebraska put forward a package last week similar to Minnesota’s, which included a minimum wage raise to $9, paid sick leave, paid family leave, and an expansion of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income families. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) put forward a Women’s Equality Agenda last year that combined protections for pregnant workers, a ban on salary secrecy, and an expansion of women’s access to abortion.

Federal lawmakers have similarly taken a comprehensive approach to women’s equality. Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) outlined their “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds” agenda in July, which brings together universal childcare, a minimum wage increase, paid sick leave, and the Paycheck Fairness Act. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) outlined a five-point “American Opportunity Plan” that includes paid family leave, raising the minimum wage, affordable childcare, and the Paycheck Fairness Act.

President Obama has also talked about women’s equality and touched on all of these issues, although doesn’t always put them together. He has called for a minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour, the creation of a universal preschool program, paid leave, and legislation aimed at closing the gender wage gap.

State lawmakers are also working on various aspects of these packages on their own. States across the country are pushing to raise their minimum wages through legislation or ballot initiatives, and those that already have higher wages have smaller gender wage gaps. Newark passed the country’s eighth paid sick leave law on Tuesday, and at least seven states are working on similar legislation. Paid leave is less common — just three states have passed policies, while Massachusetts and New York have pending bills.

The comprehensive approach gets at various ways that workplace policies still don’t favor women. They make just 77 cents, on average, for every dollar a man makes, and the gap hasn’t closed significantly in five years. Part of that picture is that they make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers, who haven’t seen a raise in more than four years. New parents are only guaranteed unpaid time off, which means a quarter of women quit or lose their jobs when they need to take leave. Just half of the country’s three-year-olds and 69 percent of four-year-olds are enrolled in preschool programs, yet the cost of private childcare is now more than what the average family spends on rent or food, making it difficult for working mothers (and fathers) to get to work. Forty percent of private sector workers don’t have access to paid leave when they get sick or to care for a sick family member, forcing many parents to choose between their jobs and the care of their children.