Whitmer lends support to equal pay legislation

Senate Democrats support equal pay, May 22, 2019 | Senate Democrats photo

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer rallied supporters at an equal pay day event Wednesday, saying legislation must pass that bars private companies from asking women about prior salary.

Gretchen Whitmer | Ken Coleman

The move would enshrine one of the governor’s first executive directives that stops state departments from asking about pay history at private businesses. It’s a measure that is meant to help address the Michigan pay gap of 22 cents between men and women, the governor’s office has said.

“If I could apply it to every workplace, I would do that unilaterally,” Whitmer said at the Central United Methodist Church Wednesday. “But we have to have the force of law behind us.”

On Wednesday, Democratic state senators and representatives introduced a package of 12 bills in both chambers meant to help close the gender pay gap.

One bill sponsor, state Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), said her Senate Bill 330 would allow employees to request from their employer wage information from “similarly situated employees” to find out if they’re being underpaid.

“When women earn less than male counterparts for doing the same work, whole households, communities and our entire state lose,” Geiss said in a statement. “Wage discrimination is an outdated and irresponsible practice of systemic inequity for women and especially women of color.”

House Democrats support equal pay, May 22, 2019 | House Democrats photo

Other lawmakers, including state Rep. Padma Kuppa (D-Troy), are sponsoring similar legislation aimed at the same persistent problem.

“Our experience echoes that of thousands of women in our state and I will not rest until my daughter’s generation actually receives equal pay for equal work,” Kuppa said in a statement.

But the legislation may face an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled House and Senate.

Despite contrary evidence from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Senate Majority Mike Leader told the Michigan Advance in a January interview that he does not believe a gender pay gap exists.

He added that Whitmer’s pay measure is confusing, and his advice to companies that do contract work with the state is to simply ignore it.

“I have no evidence” of a gender pay gap, Shirkey told the Advance. “I have both a staff here and a staff at home in my for-profit world filled with highly qualified, highly skilled women. And I don’t see any differences in how they’re treated.”

Mary Pollock at the equal pay event | Michael Gerstein

Mary Pollock, who organized a pay gap lobby day Wednesday to draw attention to the issue, said her message to Shirkey is to look at the facts. Pollock is the Michigan government relations coordinator for the American Association of University Women and a longtime equal pay advocate.

“The progress has stalled these last 10 years,” she told reporters Wednesday.

“You just have to keep hitting them with the facts from the census, the facts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics,” she continued. “There is a pay gap. It’s real, and even when you control for the same job title, the education background … the family status … controlling for all the variables except for sex, you can see that there’s a disparity in pay.”

Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein covers the governor’s office, criminal justice and the environment. Before that, he wrote about state government and politics for the Detroit News, the Associated Press and MIRS News and won a Society of Professional Journalism award for open government reporting. He studied philosophy at Michigan State University, where he wrote for both The State News and Capital News Service. He began his journalism career freelancing for The Sturgis Journal, his hometown paper.

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