When the governor signed the Equal Pay bill into law, I eagerly watched his hand move across the page, thanked him for the commemorative pen and cheered. There is much to cheer about in this new law. It will help close the pay gap between women and men, which is 84 cents to the dollar in Vermont.
The law answers some key questions.
Such as: How can you know if you are paid fairly if you don't know what the person earns who does the same job as you? Until now, many employers prohibited employees from even asking. Now it's legal to disclose your salary and to ask your co-worker for that information. Once you compare, you'll know whether or not you're receiving equal pay for equal work.
How safe is it to ask your boss for a flexible work schedule so you can come to work an hour early and leave an hour early to pick up your child from day care, or take your Mom to the doctor? Some workers are afraid to ask, because they may be punished for asking. They might be considered disloyal, or even be fired, just for asking.
The Equal Pay bill permits workers to ask for a flexible work schedule twice a year without fear of retaliation. The employer is not obligated to grant the request for flexible work arrangements, but she will have a duty to respond in good faith.
One more thing, the new law requires state contractors to certify that they comply with the law and open their books to prove it.
Vermont, once again, is leading the country. A similar bill, called the Paycheck Fairness Act, is languishing in the Congress. How did we do it in Vermont? We worked together. The Attorney General's office, a group of feisty legislators, spear-headed by Representative Jill Krowinski, women's organizations, labor groups, and the governor made it happen.
At first glance, the Equal Pay law looks like a win just for women. Not so. When women are paid fairly their spouses, partners and their children do better. So do the elderly. A small pay discrepancy between men's and women's salaries for the same job may seem inconsequential. But over the years, salary discrimination adds up to a significantly smaller pension.
The best way for the poor to move out of poverty and the middle class to prosper is for all families to increase the size of the family paycheck. The Equal Pay law will help us get there. Three cheers!
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