Wage inequity a nagging problem in Pa., critics say - abc27 WHTM

Wage inequity a nagging problem in Pa., critics say

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Deborah Vereen of Harrisburg remembers a job in the mid-1980s. She had the same title and responsibilities as a male counterpart, but made $10,000 less.

"When I went in to ask about it, I was told two things: Number one, you violated company policy for discussing wages. Number two, he has a family he has to support, so he makes more money," Vereen said Monday at the Capitol.

It's still a problem, analysts say, and nationally women make just $.77 cents to a man's dollar for the same job.

In Pennsylvania, the study showed, the disparity varies from $.54 (Jefferson-Indiana) to $.83 (Philadelphia) by county.

"It's data that's taken off median income for men and women, and it's over about a 5-year schedule that was looked at," Vereen said.

President John F. Kennedy signed a pay equity law in the early 1960s.

Federal and state statutes prohibit paying women less than men for the same job. But, critics say, they're mostly toothless.

"It's a bill that makes something illegal, but doesn't put into place the ways to determine if illegal activity occurred," said Representative Brian Sims - (D) Philadelphia. "That's what happened here."

There are two new bills - House Bill 1890, Senate Bill 1212 - that would give pay equity enforcement more teeth. They would lay out specific, business-related reasons why a company could pay a man more than a woman. Reasons like skills, experience, and education.

The bills would prevent employers from punishing employees for asking questions about wage comparison.

"Employees have the right to not be retaliated against by their employer if they disclose what they make," said Representative Erin Molchany - (D) Allegheny, prime sponsor of HB1890. "It's a wage secrecy issue as well."

Vereen now owns her own consulting firm that advises companies on diversity and inclusion. She supports changing the law but would prefer changing hearts and minds. She wants businesses to do a payroll self-evaluation.

"If you're really authentic in your leadership, and you believe in equity and parity, all you need to do is go to your HR Department and do a wage comparison. Then you will see where you actually stand," Vereen said.

It was mostly Democrats at the press conference pushing the new legislation, and Harrisburg is run by Republicans. The future of HB1890 and SB1212 is uncertain at best.

Even if they passed, lawmakers couldn't get into the books of private companies to see if there are gender inequities and violations. 

Bottom line: Legislators can't make employers do the right thing in this case. But they can ask them to.

"It is already illegal to pay women less because they are women so if you're doing it in Pennsylvania we're gonna find out," Sims said. "So please don't."

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