Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announces the state’s new equal pay law, Aug. 1, 2016.
This was truly a historic week in Massachusetts. After decades of work and coalition building, the state legislature unanimously passed the strongest equal pay law in the country.
As I watched Gov. Baker sign into law the new act to establish pay equity, I reflected on the long road that led us here. I first testified on equal pay at the Massachusetts statehouse in 1983, and over the course of my career, I’ve negotiated pay equity upgrades for thousands of female state employees and worked with women’s and civil rights organizations on gender-neutral job evaluation guide charts.
Then-State Rep. Pat Jehlen started filing an equal pay bill every year since 1998. At the signing ceremony on Monday, it was truly thrilling for me to hear Jehlen, now a state senator, announce, “Today in Massachusetts we say: Equal pay for equal work is not just a slogan, it’s the law.”
The new Pay Equity Act provides employers with a much needed definition of comparable work entitled to equal pay, prevents them from firing employees for discussing their compensation with coworkers, and makes Massachusetts the first state in the nation to ban employers from asking for salary history as part of the interview process. That last provision is an important one, because hiring female employees and paying them at a rate based on their former earnings only perpetuates the wage gap.
The law also provides incentives for employers to conduct salary reviews without fear of lawsuits if gender disparities are found. And it includes a provision that that no employee’s pay can be reduced in order to correct any violations of the act.
This new law is another step in the growing effort to achieve equal pay in Massachusetts, where so many businesses, advocates, and state and local leaders recognize the importance of closing the pay gap. Nationally, full-time working women earn on average 79 cents for every dollar white men earn; in Massachusetts, women earn 82 cents on the dollar.*
Gov. Baker signs the law.
This year, the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, the Women’s Bar Association and Mass NOW organized a coalition of 50 organizations to advance equal pay that also included the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators, the Alliance for Business Leadership, the Boston Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.
Boston has actively addressed the wage gap since 2013, including encouraging companies to conduct internal pay audits. More than 100 employers voluntarily signed Boston’s 100% Talent: the Boston Women’s Compact. Employers who sign the compact agree to assess their wage data to see if gender pay gaps exist, take steps to address any gaps, and anonymously provide aggregate data to assess the city’s progress as a whole. Mayor Walsh and the city’s Office of Women’s Advancement have also partnered with the American Association of University Women to host free salary negotiation workshops with a goal of training 85,000 women in the next five years.
Massachusetts businesses know that equal pay is good for the bottom line. The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, the Massachusetts Business Roundtable and the Associated Industries of Massachusetts all supported the final bill. At the Department of Labor, we’re excited to see Massachusetts leading the way on equal pay, and we are confident that these efforts will pay dividends to working women, their families and the Massachusetts economy for generations to come.
For more resources, check out the Department of Labor’s equal pay page and the Women’s Bureau equal pay and pay transparency map.
Jackie Cooke is a regional administrator for the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau.
*National earnings ratio is calculated from earnings data from U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplements, 2014. Massachusetts earnings ratio is calculated from earnings data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics, 2015.