HARTFORD, CT – A bill to help increase pay equity for women in the workforce easily passed the House of Representatives Wednesday by a 139-9 vote.
But the bill that prompted naming calling between lawmakers from different parties was substantially different than the one Democratic leadership in the House wanted to run last week.
The original language that would have prohibited employers from asking prospective employees about their salary history was stripped from the legislation.
The bill that passed the House Wednesday would prohibit gender wage discrimination, ensure workers maintain their seniority following maternity or family medical leave, ban employers from using a worker’s previously earned wages as a defense against a charge of pay inequity, and give the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities the ability to hear wage complaints. Currently, that responsibility lies with the Department of Labor.
Last week, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, delayed voting on the legislation saying the lawyers were still working on language.
Aresimowicz insisted the opposition expressed by House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, and the comments made by Rep. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, had nothing to do with the decision to delay debate.
At a press conference last week Lesser said objections to the pay equity bills are rooted in two things: “that’s the way we’ve always done it and bigotry. There is no other possible objection to this.’’
Klarides, the first female elected to head the House Republican caucus, was offended by the comments and took them personally.
She said she’s disappointed Aresimowicz would let one of his members call someone who opposes the legislation a bigot.
“The fact that they are using an important issue like pay equity for political purposes to start is disgusting,” Klarides said about Lesser’s comments “Then they say the only reason you would not want to vote for their crappy bill is because you’re bigots.”
While the bill easily passed, several legislators who said they were in favor of pay equity wondered if the legislation would really make a difference.
“Discrimination is any form is ugly,” Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, R-Glastonbury, said. But Srinivasan, who is running for governor, said he wasn’t clear how it could be determined “what is equal work on the job.” He asked several questions about if it was fair to pay a woman less than a man if the woman didn’t put in the extra hours and instead went home to take care of her family.
Before the vote Wednesday, Aresimowicz said it was important to move the bill forward and that the people of Connecticut “expect us to not be petty.”
“We’re not taking our ball and going home,” Aresimowicz said.
Klarides who hadn’t seen the final language of the bill Wednesday morning didn’t know how she planned to vote. She still had concerns about the legislation, but she eventually voted in favor of the bill.
On Wednesday, on the House floor, Klarides said she, herself has “experienced gender inequity, gender discrimination.”
“We want to protect women from this problem,” Klarides added. “We want it to be fair.”
Klarides said politics had no place in the issue.
“We need to work together. Unless we take these issues head on as a group we aren’t doing them justice,” Klarides said.
The business community through their lobbyists opposed the original version of the legislation.
Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, who in answer to concerns that the bill might be perceived as anti-business, said: “We want to be pro-business; but we want to be pro-people.”
Aresimowicz stated that in his experiences talking with constituents and people across the state, he found job growth and sustainability were their main concerns.
“This is not exclusively a women’s issue, it is a family issue with families increasingly relying on two incomes,” Aresimowicz said. “Women in Connecticut earn 83 cents for every dollar paid to men, which amounts to an annual wage gap of $10,679. More households are headed by women.”
Following passage of the bill several women’s groups issued statements in support, but said there needs to be more work on the issue.
“We look forward to continuing the momentum with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to achieve pay equity for women in Connecticut,” Kate Farrar, executive director, Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, said.
Christine Palm, communications director for the Connecticut Commission on Women, Children, and Seniors, said “preventing employers from predicating salary on past wages – which in a woman’s case are often lower than a man’s for comparable work – would have broken this key link in a discriminatory chain.”
However, the vote “shows we can continue to work with legislators on both sides of the aisle on expanding these protections,” Palm said.