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3/3/2021 Senate passes bill to address wage gaps
STATE HOUSE – The Senate yesterday passed legislation sponsored by Sen. Gayle L. Goldin to help address pay gaps and help women and people of color demand equal pay for equal work.

“Everyone deserves to be paid fairly for their work,” said Senator Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence). “This legislation provides employees a more effective, realistic set of tools for addressing unfair pay practices, and it helps our state identify unequal pay where it occurs. Passing this legislation will address the gaping holes in our existing ‘fair pay’ laws and make real progress toward fixing the problem of pay inequality.”

In Rhode Island, a woman working full-time still makes only 82 cents to the dollar that her male counterpart makes. Women of color are even more deeply affected. Black women in Rhode Island make 59 percent of what their white male counterparts make; for Latinas, the number is even lower — 50 percent. On average, Rhode Island women lose $402,000 over a 40-year career to the wage gap—money desperately needed by working families. For women of color, the lifetime loss exceeds $1 million: $1,026,920 for Black women and $1,219,880 for Latinas.

The bill passed with broad, bipartisan support, 33-1, ahead of Equal Pay Day on March 24, the day in 2021 to which, on average, a woman must work to catch up to what men made in 2020.

“Lower wages mean Rhode Island women are more likely to struggle with putting food on their table or paying for rent. While we have always known wage disparity is a problem, the pandemic has forced a disproportionate number of women out of the workforce completely, compounding the inequity women already faced. Passage of this bill would go a long way toward establishing financial stability for Rhode Island employees and their families,” said Senator Goldin.

Senator Goldin’s bill (2021-S 0270), which would take effect Jan. 1, would provide protections and transparency in the workplace to help women and people of color demand equal pay for equal work. The act 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. 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 (2021-H 5261). The Senate bill is cosponsored by Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence), Senate President Pro Tempore Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick), Senate Judiciary Committee Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol East Providence), Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence), Sen. Bridget G. Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, Narragansett, South Kingstown), Sen. Cynthia M. Mendes (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket), Sen. Alana DiMario (D-Dist. 36, North Kingstown, Narragansett), Sen. Tiara Mack (D-Dist. 6, Providence) and Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence).

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