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How Washington state is taking on the wage gap

caption: Clara Vazquez scans items before putting them into boxes at an Amazon fulfillment center on Friday, November 3, 2017, in Kent.
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Clara Vazquez scans items before putting them into boxes at an Amazon fulfillment center on Friday, November 3, 2017, in Kent.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Working women in Washington make about 75 cents for every dollar a man makes, on average. That's based on 2017 data of full time employees from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Women of color make even less, on average, as do mothers.

A proposed bill in the state legislature is attempting to bridge that gap.It would ban employers from asking candidates about their previous salaries. It would also require them to list a salary range for open jobs.

"If a salary range is provided by the employer, this will help women negotiate a salary comparable to men at the time of hiring," said Michelle Gonzalez, director of the new Washington State Women's Commission, testifying about the bill in Olympia last week.

Gonzalez said the pay gap, in which men make more than women, spans all educational levels, including lawyers, chief executives, and medical professionals.

The national organization MomsRising is also backing the bill. CEO Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner said it's important that women, or any job candidate, not have to disclose their past salaries, which could negatively influence their future pay.

"This bill won't remove all the bias that women, moms, and people of color encounter when negotiating pay," she said. "But it will give employers and employees more tools for combating unconscious bias that they are facing every day."

Some small-business advocates have testified against it. They argue disclosing salary ranges would violate employee privacy.

Kelly Fukai is with Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, an electronics manufacturer based in Pullman. She told state senators in testimony, "we pay fairly and competitively, and we work hard to attract and retain the best and brightest employees."

"Requiring disclosure of those ranges to non-employee applicants is essentially public disclosure of our employee's private salary data, and that really conflicts with our corporate values around security and privacy," Fukai said.

The bill needs approval from state senators and the governor before it would become law. The state House has already passed the bill.

The legislation is a follow-up to the Equal Pay Opportunity Act, which the Washington legislature approved on International Women's Day in 2018. The act bans employers from retaliating against employees who ask about their salary or the salary of other employees. Additionally, employees can take civil action on issues related to career advancement, wage discussion and retaliation provisions.

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