- Associated Press - Saturday, July 23, 2016

BOSTON (AP) - Men and women would move closer to equal pay in the workplace in under a bill that has landed on Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk.

The Massachusetts House and Senate unanimously approved the legislation during a rare Saturday session sandwiched between the Republican and Democratic national conventions.

Supporters say white women are currently paid on average about 82 percent of what their male counterparts make for comparable work in Massachusetts. For black and Hispanic women, the pay gap is even wider.

The goal of the bill is to help ensure men and women receive equal pay for comparable work.

The bill attempts to define what constitutes comparable work in part by outlining legitimate reasons for differences in pay, including seniority, geographic location, experience, education, training or a system based on sales.

In what lawmakers say is a first-in-the-nation provision, the bill would bar employers from asking prospective workers to provide a salary history.

Supporters of the bill say that practice can perpetuate a cycle of lower salaries for women. The bill wouldn’t bar prospective employees from voluntarily offering information about their salary, however.

In another key provision, the bill would also allow employees to discuss their salaries with other workers without facing retribution from their employer - a measure that could help workers discover pay equities.

Democratic Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka said passage of the bill by the Legislature is historic.

“This bill will really I believe finally put a nail in the coffin of the gender pay gap,” said Spilka of Ashland, noting that Massachusetts passed the nation’s first pay equity bill 70 years ago.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Pat Jehlen of Somerville, said the bill will go a long way toward bringing pay equity into the workplace.

“It doesn’t solve the problem, but it removes many barriers which we know have kept women from achieving equity,” Jehlen said. “I believe that my granddaughters will grow up in a society that is more equal thanks to our action today.”

The legislation is among a half-dozen major bills Baker and Democratic legislative leaders have said they want to finish this session.

Baker spokesman William Pitman said the governor believes no one should be paid less because of their gender.

Baker “appreciates the business community’s input to this process and will carefully review the legislature’s final proposal,” Pitman said in a statement after the bill passed.

The bill encourages companies to correct compensation disparities internally before going to court by creating a three-year defense from liability. During those three years, employers must complete a self-evaluation of their pay practices and demonstrate reasonable progress in eliminating pay disparities.

Employers would also be barred from reducing salaries to comply with the law.

The legislation would take effect July 1, 2018.

Democratic leaders in both chambers were working to make progress on a slew of bills and veto overrides ahead of a July 31 deadline to complete work on major legislative items.

Because many Democratic lawmakers are planning to travel to Philadelphia to attend the Democratic National Convention, both chambers will hold off on formal sessions during the convention, which runs through Thursday, and instead meet next weekend, July 30-31.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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