- Associated Press - Friday, February 5, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - Data shows that Hawaii women make less than men in the same job, and state lawmakers have noticed.

They’re considering a bill to strengthen Hawaii’s equal pay law and help close the wage gap. Right now, lawmakers say Hawaii women earn 86 cents to every dollar a man earns. They say minority women make even less, which contributes to higher poverty rates among women than men.

The bill, which was introduced in both the Senate and House, would require men and women to be paid equally for “substantially similar work,” despite different job titles or work locations. For instance, the new law could require that a female cleaner be paid the same as a male janitor, even though they have different job titles.

During a hearing Friday, lawmakers added a section to the bill that would prevent employers from requiring potential employees to disclose what they made at previous jobs. The bill would also protect workers against retaliation or discrimination for asking what other coworkers are making.

Civil rights and women’s groups supported the bill, but some business organizations didn’t, saying it would create tension among employees.

Opponents say the law could create resentment in the workplace if employees knew each other’s salaries. Some doubted the credibility of the data, saying women make less than men for reasons other than discrimination, for instance, because women take more part-time jobs.

“We think that some of the data discussed doesn’t tell the entire story,” said Pono Chong, vice president of Hawaii Chamber of Commerce’s Business Advocacy and Development division. “There are many reasons that are not based on discrimination for the difference in pay,”

He also said the ability to discuss salaries publicly could disadvantage businesses.

“It’s also now becoming a proprietary issue once it gets out there - now I know what my competitor pays,” said Chong.

Rep. Matt LoPresti, who is on the committee that considered the bill Friday, said he was “dumbfounded” by the opposition against it.

“Will there be moral problems in the workplace if people could discuss wages? Of course there would be,” LoPresti said.

He said competition between companies to offer better wages would be good for workers.

“The point is to give transparency for people in the workplace to understand whether or not they’re being treated fairly,” LoPresti said.

California passed a similar law last year, which supporters say is the strictest in the country. Most states have laws addressing equal pay or wage discrimination in addition to the federal rules under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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