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Legislators, advocates promote fair pay bills on National Equal Pay Day

MORGANTOWN – Wednesday was National Equal Pay Day and a group of legislators and other equal pay advocates held a virtual meeting to promote four bills aimed at ensuring fair pay for women and minorities in West Virginia.

Three of the bills are called the Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan Fair Pay Act and one is called the Pay Transparency Act. Sponsorship is bipartisan. Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughn, African-American West Virginians, were both highlighted in the movie Hidden Figures for overcoming barriers to play key roles in NASA’s space program.

Kelly Allen , executive director of West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy opened the meeting and explained what the day is about. Due to the gender pay gap, this marks the extra days a woman must work in order to earn the same pay a man in a comparable job made the prior year – in other words it would take a woman almost 15 months to earn what her colleague would in 12.

Allen said West Virginia’s pay gap means a woman earn 74 cents to the dollar compared a man. For black women, it’s 63 cents, for Latina women, it’s 60 cents.

The job search website Monster put out an Equal Pay Day release that cites a compilation of national data. Nationally, for ever man’s dollar, an Asian woman earns 90 cents; white woman, 79 cents; black woman, 62 cents; Native American woman, 57 cents; Latina, 55 cents.

West Virginia National Organization for Women President Meredith Hartery highlighted one of the core elements of the four bills: transparency and secrecy regarding wages and salary history. Pay disparities go job to job. People need the right to talk freely about their wages.

“When folks are able to talk about their earnings they’re paid more fairly and stay in their jobs longer,” she said.

The four bills are not identical, but similar. They are SB 43, SB 288, HB 2121 and HB 3247.

HB 3247 would require an employer to provide upon request by a job applicant the compensation range for the position. It forbids the employer to retaliate if the applicant refuses to provide a pay history or asks for the pay range. An employer may not ask about pay history but may use it if voluntarily provided after a job is offered.

It also provides for pay transparency, allowing employees to ask about and discuss each other’s compensation.

West Virginia NAACP President Owens Brown said black women have been the backbone of their families, working when the men weren’t able to get jobs.

But there’s also a pay gap for minority men, he said. “HB 3247 will define the morality of this Legislature in treating women as second class.”

Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, said, “It’s insulting that so many women and men don’t know what other people are making at work and get lowballed.”

There’s a time crunch to get one of these bills moving, she said. March 31 is Crossover Day, the day bills have to pass out of their house of origin to the other side in order to remain alive. That means bills have to clear whatever committees they’re assigned to by Friday.

All the bills are assigned to their respective Judiciary committees and legislators said both chairs – Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, and Delegate Moore Capito, R-Kanawha – are open to moving them but need some prodding.

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, and Delegates Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, and Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, all offered words of support.

Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, said she has to work three jobs in addition to her legislative work in order to support her family. “We are not backing down and we are not going away.”

She commented on the bigger pay gap for black women. “This is institutional racism and we must stop the hate in our state.” Job applicants should be firm about their rights when they negotiate their pay, she said. “When we walk into those offices we need to walk in with authority.”

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