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6/6/2019 Senate passes bills to address wage gaps
STATE HOUSE – The Senate today passed two measures sponsored by Sen. Gayle L. Goldin and Sen. Maryellen Goodwin to help address pay gaps affecting women and members of minority groups.

“Women deserve to be paid just as much as men for our work. These bills provide employees a more effective, realistic set of tools for addressing unfair pay practices, and they help our state identify unequal pay where it occurs. Today we are doing more than raising awareness; We are making real progress toward fixing the problem of pay inequality,” said Senator Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence).

In Rhode Island, a woman working full-time still makes only 84 cents to the dollar that her male counterpart makes. Women of color are even more deeply affected. Black women in Rhode Island make 58 percent of what their white male counterparts make; for Latinas, the number is even lower— 49 percent. On average, Rhode Island working women lose $9,037 per year to the wage gap—money desperately needed by working families. The wage gap amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars of lost earnings over a lifetime, and over $1 million on average for Latinas.

“These bills are two important first steps in closing wage gaps. This is a complex problem with lots of causes, including societal biases and expectations that need to change. By identifying where wage gaps exist and how wide they are, and better enabling workers to advocate for themselves, we are pointing our state in the right direction on this issue, moving toward a future where all Rhode Islanders, regardless of gender, race or any other factor, have fair opportunities to support themselves and their families,” said Senate Majority Whip Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence).

Senator Goldin’s bill (2019-S 0509) would provide protections and transparency in the workplace to help women and people of color demand equal pay for equal work. Titled the Fair Pay Act, the bill would make it illegal to pay workers less than their white, male colleagues without a clearly documented difference in skills. It clarifies “comparable work,” making it clear that workers need to be paid equally for “substantially similar” work even if every detail is not the same. It bans policies that prevent workers from discussing their pay with each other and removes past salary history as a consideration since discrimination is perpetuated over time by employers relying on past salaries, rather than skills and value, to determine current pay.  It also requires the employer to disclose the salary range for the position. reduced penalties for companies that take steps such as conducting an equal-pay analysis or making progress toward wage gap elimination. Companies that violate the law but are taking steps such as conducting an equal-pay analysis or making progress toward wage gap elimination, would be eligible for reduced penalties.

In 2017, Massachusetts passed a similar Fair Pay Act, joining cities and companies across the country that are enacting these policies.

The bill will now be sent to the House, where Rep. Susan R. Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth) is sponsoring companion legislation (2019-H 5659). Cosponsors include Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence), Senator Goodwin, Sen. Valarie J. Lawson (D-Dist. 14, East Providence) and Sen. Sandra Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket).

Senator Goodwin’s bill (2019-S 0172), which will also now go to the House and is cosponsored by Senator Goldin, would collect data from employers of 100 or more people in Rhode Island to help determine industries and areas where pay gaps occur, and their extent. The Department of Labor and Training would be responsible for developing a form by which companies would report information on the compensation and hours worked by employees by age, gender, race, ethnicity, job category and occupation or title. DLT would publish aggregate data compiled from the reports, including state, regional, and industry pay disparities by occupational category.

Both bills would take effect Jan. 1.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923