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Daily Court Reporter - News Dem bill attacks sex-based wage disparity in the public sector


Dem bill attacks sex-based wage disparity in the public sector

KEITH ARNOLD, Daily Reporter Staff Writer

Canton Democrat Rep. Thomas West is going after the state of Ohio's employment and pay practices in a bill that secured a first hearing in the final weeks of 2017 in the Ohio House of Representatives.

House Bill 385 is based on studies that found state employees experience higher levels of wage discrimination by gender and race than those working in other industries.

"Wage discrimination is a problem that plagues our entire economy by making it harder for working families to get ahead," he said upon the bill's introduction back in October. "We have an obligation to take any step we can to promote fair wages and end workplace discrimination."

HB 385 would prohibit a state agency from requiring - as a condition of employment - that an employee refrain from inquiring about, discussing or disclosing information about the employee's own wages or about another employee's wages.

The bill additionally would prohibit a state agency from taking adverse action against an employee or prospective employee because the individual opposed actions or practices prohibited by the bill, disclosed the employee's wages, or inquired about or discussed the wages of another employee.

"The wage gap is a problem that plagues our entire economy," the lawmaker said during sponsor testimony before members of the Economic Development, Commerce and Labor Committee. "It reduces income for families and makes it harder for working Ohioans to get by.

"We hear a lot of discussion about the role that the government should play in reducing this gap. However, the government itself is one of the worst culprits, despite the ability of the public to view its employees' salaries."

According to countless studies, West said, the gap even increases as women and minorities earn promotions and pay raises.

"According to a 2016 report from the Economic Policy Institute, women at the bottom 10 percent of earners are paid 92 cents on the male dollar, while women in the top 5 percent of earners are paid 74 cents to the male dollar," he said. "This growing gap stems partially from two common exercises that employers practice: Asking potential employees about salary history during interviews and prohibiting employees from discussing wages with each other."

West dismissed the notion that because state employee salaries are public record his premise is flawed. He said state employees' "lack of knowledge on how to access these salaries" was one reason public-record status would matter little in knowledge of coworkers' salaries.

West also figured "workplace conversations are far more likely to occur" instead of "extensive wage research sessions."

HB 385 also would create a Wage Disparity Study Committee to examine the bill's effect on disparities in wages paid by state agencies and to examine employees' attitudes toward the bill.

West said at the conclusion of the commission's study period a report on the policy's impact is to be produced and the commission abolished.

"Ohio can become a national leader on this issue by adopting well-documented and proven measures that close the wage gap among government employees," he said. "This legislation is far less intrusive than some other proposals to reduce the wage gap.

"In my discussions with business organizations and owners, none have planned to oppose this bill because it applies only to state agencies and allows us to properly study the issue."

Ohio Legislative Service Commission analysis determined that a state agency in violation of the bill's prohibitions can be sued for damages, an injunction, or any other appropriate relief.

"As Ohio's largest employer, the state should be doing everything it can to lead on issues of pay equity," the lawmaker concluded. "HB 385 is the first step to ensure every hardworking Ohioans is treated fairly and is paid based solely on the work they do, not who they are or what their background is."

Six fellow House members have cosponsored the bill, which had not been scheduled a second hearing as of publication.

Date Published: January 17, 2018


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