With a 69-28 vote, the Washington State House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday to update Washington State's gender pay equity laws and expand protections against pay secrecy.
“As we lift the shroud of silence on sexual harassment so must we make sure we no longer have secrecy around our wages," said Representative Tana Senn, a Democrat from Mercer Island and sponsor of the bill.
The bill would expand existing federal law that says bosses can't stop employees from talking about their wages. (Federal law offers this protection but includes significant exemptions.) Pay secrecy is one way the gender and racial pay gap can persist, since workers may never know they're being paid less than their counterparts. The bill also updates state law requiring that workers in comparable jobs be paid equally and would mandate that all workers receive the same training and other career advancement opportunities.
A separate bill would chip away at another persistent pay gap issue: using past pay to determine salary at a new job. That bill hasn't yet received a full house or senate vote.
During Wednesday's vote, Republicans split on the bill. Some claimed it would enrich lawyers with bogus cases and some questioned the severity of the gender pay gap. Among Republicans voting yes was the reliable "I have a daughter" argument. "Think about the women in your family and what they deserve," Norm Johnson, a Republican from Yakima, told his colleagues. (Will we ever reach a point where men simply see women as constituents/human beings, rather than needing to conjure up mental images of "their" daughters and wives in order to vote in our favor? I'm not holding my breath. But in the meantime, thank you brave gentleman dads for your votes.)
Democrats said the bill was about "fairness." Representative Gael Tarleton, a Democrat who represents Ballard, said she found out she was making 35 percent less than her male counterparts when her boss, a woman, told her. "I never would have know that if I did not have a woman who was my manager," Tarleton said.
The bill will now proceed to hearings and a potential vote in the state senate.