Bill hopes to address gender pay gap

The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, would create guidelines to ensure equal pay.

The Missouri State House Committee for Workforce Standards and Development held a hearing March 9 on a gender pay equity bill put forward by State Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia.

The bill, House Bill 44, would require the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations to create guidelines to ensure businesses and organizations have gender pay equality. Another hearing on the bill has not yet been scheduled.

One of the bill’s supporters is Wendy Doyle, President and CEO of the Women’s Foundation. The Women’s Foundation has worked with MU’s Institute of Public Policy throughout 2014 to conduct research on the status of women in Missouri.

“The Women’s Foundation promotes equity and opportunity for women and girls, using philanthropy, research and policy solutions to make meaningful change,” Doyle said in an email. “We believe that economically self-sufficient women will lead Missouri’s next chapter of economic growth. This bill is an investment in a stronger economy for all Missourians.”

The bill is just a start toward supporting Missouri’s women in the pursuit to earn their economic potential, Doyle said.

“There is so much more that we could be doing to further economic development for Missouri and to improve the lives of women and their families,” she said. “HB 44 would direct the Department of Labor to develop best practices for businesses to follow to address their gender wage gaps.”

Doyle said she also sees the bill as a step in the right direction when it comes to acknowledging the issue of equal pay in Missouri.

“First, our leaders need to acknowledge the issue exists and our recent research with MU clearly shows an income gap between men and women,” she said. “We believe that HB 44 not only brings more attention to the issue but would start the conversation on how Missouri can bridge that gap.”

Doyle also cited the economic impact equal pay could have on the state of Missouri.

“Women make up 48 percent of the state's work force,” she said. “When women bring home more money, it absolutely benefits entire families and communities. Missouri women who are employed full time lose a combined total of approximately $8 billion dollars due to this wage gap.”

If the gap were to close, a working woman in Missouri would have enough money for about 73 more weeks of food for her family, eight more months of mortgage and utilities payments, 13 more months of rent or 2,934 additional gallons of gas, Doyle said.

Mary Mosley, the legislative director for the Missouri chapter of the National Organization for Women, supports the bill, but said it does come with some major flaws.

“Missouri NOW does support HB 44, even though it doesn't mandate equal pay,” Mosley said in an email. “This bill is a start, at least, but it only provides that the Department of Labor create best practice guidelines. It doesn't mandate that anyone follow them. So the fact is that practically, it will create no change.”

Ray McCarty, the president and CEO of the Associated Industries of Missouri, said he supports equal pay, but does not feel these guidelines will be effective in addressing the issue.

“We don’t believe this bill is necessary; that’s the reason we oppose it,” McCarty said. “We believe that right now the Department of Labor could do everything in the bill. If the governor wants to do it, all he has to do is pick up the phone and have the Department of Labor issue these guidelines.”

McCarty said he also feels that current federal laws already effectively do what the bill is proposing be done in the guidelines.

“We don’t feel this bill is necessary because there are already federal laws in place that state men and women in the same jobs with the same qualifications must be paid the same; otherwise, that is sex discrimination and that is against the law,” he said.

McCarty also said the bill could lead to lawsuits against employers who have not broken the law if the guidelines were to be applied to employees who have different job description and titles.

In contrast, Mosley said she doesn’t think the current laws are effective, and she feels that the potential for lawsuits is an example of the need for legislation on the issue.

“We believe that the 1963 Equal Pay Act has too many loopholes, and both it and the state law (Missouri Equal Pay Act) need updating since women still don't have equal pay,” Mosley said. “We think that if there would be a lot of lawsuits that shows how much we need it.”

She said the state legislature will see this need.

“We believe that the real reason (the state legislature) won't pass an equal pay bill is because women are a cheap labor force and this legislature is pro-business, not pro-worker,” Mosley said.

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