Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

“Women are paid less in one job, and then they can never catch up.” [VIDEO]

Janet Chung, Legal and Legislative Counsel at Legal Voice, testifies to the Washington State House Labor Committee in favor of the Equal Pay Opportunity Act (HB 1646), February 2, 2015:

Good afternoon Mr. Chair and Members of the Committee. My name is Janet Chung and I work for Legal Voice, a nonprofit organization that works to advance the legal rights of women and girls. My background in private practice was in labor and employment law. I am here today on behalf of Legal Voice to support HB 1646.

Why We Need the Equal Pay Opportunity Act: The Wage Gap

Women in Washington State make 80 cents for every dollar a man makes.1 It’s even worse for women of color: Black women make 64 cents and Latinas, 54 cents for every dollar a white man makes.2 The average Washington woman working full-time is paid $18,000 per year less than the average man.3

This trend is true at all education levels and across all occupations. Women in Washington ages 25-45 hold more four-year degrees than men, but men with less formal schooling make the same as women with four-year degrees.4 A recent study showed that even one year out of college, women already are paid less than men.5

The wage gap is partly due to occupational segregation; that is, jobs in which women predominate (e.g., administrative clerks, health technicians, office administrators, and personal care services) are paid less than jobs in which men predominate (e.g., police and firefighters, engineering and computer-related fields), even when they require comparable education and skill. This is not just a matter of choice, but often is a result of career tracking, whereby women are steered toward different jobs than men. For example, in grocery stores, meat cutters (mostly men) are paid more than deli workers (mostly women).6

But even within the same job, it is true that women with comparable education and skills to men earn less than men.7 Wage differences within the same occupation make up most of the pay gap. A Harvard economist calculated that, after controlling for age, race, hours, and education, women who are doctors and surgeons earn 71% of what men in the same occupation earn, and women who are financial specialists make 66% of what men do.8

This matters for our economy. Our labor force is almost 50% women for the first time in history.9 Nearly three quarters of mothers now work.10 In 40% of households, women are the lead or sole breadwinners.11

The Equal Pay Opportunity Act: What it Does

There are two parts to this bill: it strengthens existing equal pay laws, and it addresses pay secrecy.

In 2010, over 60% of workers were forbidden or strongly discouraged from discussing pay.12 Standard workplace culture is one of secrecy around wages. People don’t know what others make. Lilly Ledbetter, for example, who we’ve all heard of, worked for Goodyear Rubber for 20 years until she learned from an anonymous note that she was paid 86% of the lowest paid male in the same position, and only 70% of what the highest paid male in that position was paid.

The Equal Pay Opportunity Act would prohibit requiring confidentiality and would protect workers from retaliation for disclosing or discussing their wages. It provides for administrative enforcement as well as the right to pursue a claim in court. These protections are important to change the culture of secrecy and to help close the wage gap.

The NLRA does provide some protections for wage disclosure, but not enough. It protects certain employees from retaliation for discussing wages if it is “concerted activit[y] for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection,” but it doesn’t cover everyone. It doesn’t protect supervisors, public sector employees, and entire industries such as airlines and railways, and not individuals acting only in their own interest. Remedies are also insufficient, and an employee cannot file a court claim until after the agency has pursued a charge and made a decision.13

Also, we do have laws prohibiting pay discrimination, but they too are inadequate. Anti-discrimination laws typically require intent, and claims are difficult to prove because an employer may give any reason, or no reason at all, for a pay differential, as long as it is not based on sex. Equal pay laws also don’t provide sufficient protection. Employers may defend by stating that a pay differential is based on “any factor other than sex.”14 Therefore, for example, courts have allowed employers to claim higher wages to males as necessary to lure them away from other employers or based on their higher prior salaries – which perpetuates systemic pay differentials. Women are paid less in one job, and then they can never catch up.

This bill would require a job-related reason for a pay differential. It also covers discrimination in job opportunities. We know that often women are not given the same information or opportunities, which results in career tracking.

This bill also would establish better enforcement. The current equal pay law has no administrative enforcement, so an employee has to file a lawsuit. A violation is a misdemeanor, but it is never enforced. The bill would allow Labor & Industries to investigate complaints and to enforce the law, and also provides for private enforcement and stronger remedies.

Essentially, this is a law to allow sunshine and equal pay opportunity. We can all agree that those are good things.

I urge you to vote HB 1646 out of committee. Thank you.

1 U.S. Census Bureau, 2013 American Community Survey, 1-year estimates.
2 U.S. Census Bureau, 2013 American Community Survey, 1-year estimates.
3 U.S. Census Bureau, 2013 American Community Survey, 1-year estimates.
4 U.S. Census Bureau, 2013 American Community Survey, 1-year estimates.
5 Christianne Corbett & Catherine Hill, American Association of University Women, Graduating to a Pay Gap:
The Earnings of Women and Men One Year after College Graduation (2012), at 9,
6 Marilyn Watkins & Samantha Hatzenbeler, “The Equal Pay Opportunity Act: A Step Toward Fair Wages for Women,” at 2 (Data provided to the Economic Opportunity Institute by UFCW Local 21).
7 U.S. Census Bureau, 2013 American Community Survey, 1-year estimates; and Quarterly Workforce Indicators.
8 Claire Cain Miller, “Pay Gap Is Because of Gender, Not Jobs,” New York Times, Apr. 23, 2014,
9 U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Women in the Labor Force: A Databook,” BLS Reports, Report 1049 (May 2014)
10 The labor force participation rate for all mothers with children under age 18 was 69.9 percent in 2013. U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment Characteristics of Families Summary,” Economic News Release (Apr. 25, 2014),
11 Wendy Wang, Kim Parker & Paul Taylor, “Breadwinner Moms: Mothers Are the Sole or Primary Provider in Four-in-Ten Households with Children; Public Conflicted about the Growing Trend,” Pew Research Center, May 29, 2013,
12 A. Hegewisch, C. Williams, R. Drago, “Pay Secrecy and Wage Discrimination,” Institute for Women’s Policy Research, extract published Jan. 2014,
13 National Women’s Law Center, “Combating Punitive Pay Secrecy Policies,” April 2012,
14 National Women’s Law Center, “Closing the ‘Factor Other than Sex’ Loophole in the Equal Pay Act,” April 2011,

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