Washington state legislature passes equal pay opportunity act

On Wednesday, the Washington Legislature officially passed the Equal Pay Opportunity Act (HB 1506), the first update to the state’s equal pay law since 1943. This historic measure requires any gender disparity in pay to be backed up with legitimate job-related factors-such as education, training, or experience-instead of unfair assumptions and practices.

“Women in Washington who worked full-time in 2016 made 76.5 percent of men’s earnings. Even after accounting for occupation, education, and other such factors, scholars have consistently found that this gap cannot be explained without the influence of discrimination. Clearly, the Equal Pay laws on the books have proven insufficient,” says Marilyn Watkins, Policy Director for the Economic Opportunity Institute. “Many women are kept in the dark about imbalances where they work, as private sector companies often prohibit employees from discussing pay. This can make it impossible for women to advocate for themselves.”

Further, the Equal Pay Opportunity Act fights wage secrecy by granting workers the right to inquire about, disclose, compare, or otherwise discuss their wages without retaliation from their employer. This right is critical for all women to know when they are being unfairly compensated, but is especially important for women of color, women with children, women with disabilities, and others who are more heavily discriminated against in the workplace.

“After years of hard work, MomsRising and our members are thrilled that the Equal Pay Opportunity Act will finally become law,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO and executive director of MomsRising.org, a national online and on-the-ground organization of more than 40,000 members in Washington State and more than 1 million members across the country. “Studies have shown that this type of policy – along with paid leave, affordable child care and a living wage – helps to decrease the wage gap. We’re proud to see Washington take the lead on championing women and families, and hope that other states will follow its example. With this action, Washington legislators have shown once again that they are committed to being true champions of women and families. Our state’s workers, businesses and economy will be stronger because of this bill.”

Wednesday’s passage comes from the Legislature as a result of a concurrence conference following much internal debate. Early in the session, legislators began to be pressured by employers and business lobbyists to add language to the bill that would have prevented local jurisdictions from creating stronger laws in the future. Economic justice advocates-including Economic Opportunity Institute, Legal Voice, and MomsRising-strongly urged legislators to move forward without this preemption.

“It was imperative that our legislators saw the long road ahead, and preserved our communities’ rights to create multiple solutions to end pay discrimination,” said Andrew Kashyap, Legal Voice Senior Attorney, on the importance of the law passing without preemption. “It is impossible for one law alone to overturn the many aspects of such historically ingrained inequity. We must be able to create additional strong laws that address unequal pay faced by the most marginalized and vulnerable in our state: women of color, transgender and gender non-conforming workers, low-wage workers, workers with disabilities, immigrant workers, and working parents. The Equal Pay Opportunity Act is a much-needed start to addressing economic injustice in Washington State.”