Right the wrong: Pay Women the same as men

April 12th, 2016|

Dear friends and neighbors,

Today we observe Equal Pay Day. I say observe, rather than celebrate, because there is little to celebrate. There is however, much to do. We have a grievous wrong to right.

Here in Washington, as across our nation, women make up half of the workforce but are paid less than their male counterparts, on average, for the same work. In our state, they earn only 78 cents on the dollar compared to men with similar experience and expertise doing similar work. For women of color, the economic disparity is even larger.

For the past two years, I — along with other Democrats in the Senate and House — have tried to update the 1943 Washington Equal Pay Act, only to see our legislation bottled up in the Republican-controlled Senate Commerce & Labor Committee. This legislation — the Equal Pay Opportunity Act — passed out of the House two years in a row years before dying in the Senate. As a result, at the current rate of progress, women are not expected to reach parity until 2058. This is unacceptable.

The fight for equal pay for the same work has been raging for more than 40 years. Yet, women today still receive 22 percent less pay for their entire career. That’s the world in which women are living. And it’s wrong.

Another battle this session was for reasonable accommodations for pregnant women. This session, we fought tirelessly to pass legislation to establish the option of workplace accommodations for workers who are pregnant or experiencing pregnancy related health conditions. Too often, women who work jobs in physically demanding fields don’t receive the accommodations they need to stay on the job while they are pregnant. This legislation, modeled after the light-duty approach offered under L&I to workers recovering from serious injuries, may include access to light-duty work assignments, more frequent bathroom breaks, on-hand water and food, seating, and use of leave time for pre- and post-natal doctors’ visits.

Reasonable accommodations are essential to all workers, especially low-income women who often work at physically demanding jobs. Often, these women are forced to take time off work, unpaid or at reduced wages, and lose both income and advancement opportunities while they’re gone. Unfortunately, though this legislation passed the Senate, it ultimately died when House and Senate negotiators failed to agree on a final version of the bill.

When I return to Olympia next January for the 2017 legislative session, it will be with my sleeves rolled up to renew these battles. Women deserve to be paid the same as men, and they deserve light-duty options to accommodate pregnancies. These are the core values of our state and these are core values I will continue to fight for.