Women Legislators Mark ‘Equal Pay Day,’ Introduce Wage History Bill

DOVER – Wearing red to mark Equal Pay Day in Delaware, women legislators from both sides of the aisle and chambers gathered to raise awareness for pay inequity and introduced legislation that would bar employers from asking prospective employees their wage history.

Though the Equal Pay Act was enacted nearly 60 years ago, Delaware women working full-time, on average, still only earn 89 percent of what their male counterparts earn. African American women and Hispanic women take home less than 69 percent.

That’s why local initiatives, such as House Bill 1, sponsored by all 13 female legislators, are so important. Using salary history to screen applicants is not only discriminatory and reinforces wage bias; it unfairly blocks people from needed job opportunities.

Under the bipartisan bill, which was introduced Tuesday, wage expectations can be discussed so long as the employer does not seek salary history over the course of the discussion and negotiation. Additionally, employees may voluntarily disclose salary information.

Similar legislation has been passed in Massachusetts and the city of Philadelphia.

“Pay inequity can adversely affect how a woman provides for her family, saves for retirement and pays off student loans,” said House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, the prime sponsor of HB 1. “During a 40-year career, it’s possible for Delaware women to lose nearly $400,000. Those lost wages nearly double and triple for African American and Hispanic women in Delaware. Closing the wage gap is a major economic issue for our state and we should do everything in our power as legislators to work to even the playing field and empower the next generation of young women.”

Though Delaware’s wage gap has narrowed, advocates from the Institutes of Women’s Policy Research estimate that women and men will not reach pay parity until 2059.

“Equal pay for equal work is not just a ‘women’s issue,’ ” said Senate Majority Leader Margaret Rose Henry. “The pay gap is widest for women of color – African-American and Latina working class women in particular. None of us are equal until all of us are equal.

“As a divorced mother who raised two sons, I can also attest that pay equity is a quality of life issue – not just for women in the workforce, but for children in the 40 percent of households that rely on a primary or sole female breadwinner. If we’re serious about equality, about growing our economy, and about creating opportunity for our children, then we need to get serious about closing the wage gap.”

Female students outnumber men in the fields of biological sciences, pharmacy and veterinary medicine and account for about half of all current law and medical students, but an analysis by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics found that women’s earnings still lag behind men, even when education and work experience are factored into salary.

“Until women are paid equal pay for equal work, we must call attention to the inequities in our society, said Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden, who sponsored a resolution marking today as Equal Pay Day in Delaware. “Regardless of occupation, industry or education the wage gap still exists. Today, we aren’t wearing red just to wear red. We are raising awareness and taking tangible steps to introduce policies that close the wage gap.”

Women wear red for Equal Pay Day to symbolize that women are “in the red” regarding their pay compared to men.

“Too many women have spent their lives working twice as hard to get half as far as their male counterparts,” said Senate Majority Whip Nicole Poore. “Many women I know have, and we all want our daughters’ experiences to be different. That has to begin by acknowledging the fundamental value of their work and demonstrating that, no matter which aspirations and futures they may create for themselves, they can be every bit as successful as their brothers.”

House Minority Whip Rep. Deborah Hudson said, “Today marks the point in the year when the wages paid to American women catch up to the wages paid to men from the previous year.  In 2017, with all the modern advancements in this day and age, you would think wage inequity for women would long be a thing of the past.  Sadly, that is not the case.  I remain committed to continuing to fight for this issue until we finally achieve fairness in pay between genders.”

Added Linda Barnett, co-chair for Public Policy of America Association of University Women Delaware: “People should be paid based on what they bring to the table – their skills, experience and training. It is blatantly wrong to pay a woman less than her male counterpart.”

House Concurrent Resolution 16 will be considered by the General Assembly Tuesday, acknowledging that equal pay for women is priority to the people of Delaware.  Sponsoring the Resolution are Rep. Longhurst, Rep. Bolden, Sen. Henry and Sen. Poore.