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New Hampshire Senate Committee considers equal pay legislation

Last modified: 1/25/2014 12:14:52 AM
A bill allowing employees to discuss their wages with co-workers would eliminate pay inequity between men and women, supporters said during a public hearing yesterday. But Republicans expressed skepticism about the bill’s necessity, making it unclear whether it will pass the Republican-controlled Senate.

Sen. Sylvia Larsen, a Concord Democrat and the bill’s prime sponsor, said it would close loopholes in the existing equal pay law. Under current state law, employers must pay men and women equally if they are equally qualified, but can prohibit employees from discussing their pay.

“So how in the heck does a woman know she’s not getting paid equally?” Larsen asked.

Sen. Andy Sanborn, a Bedford Republican, questioned whether the law is needed. He noted that it is already illegal to pay men and women different salaries based solely on gender.

“Do you know of any companies that are breaking the law today?” asked Sanborn, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. “Because . . . the law’s pretty clear.”

Three complaints have been filed with the state Department of Labor since 2000, said Commissioner Jim Craig. But women who believe they are being paid unfairly based on gender can also file a case in superior court, he said.

Larsen and the bill’s other supporters cited data yesterday from the U.S. Census Bureau, indicating that women who are employed full-time earn 77 percent as much as men. They said changes are needed to strengthen the existing law and close that gap.

“It exists in our state, it exists in our nation and we know that on average, a woman’s taking home far less as an average wage than her male counterpart,” Larsen said.

Sen. Sam Cataldo said he has always paid male and female employees equally if they had the same position and level of experience. Cataldo, a Farmington Republican, said he has not seen evidence of companies breaking the existing law.

“I don’t see the systemic (problem),” Cataldo said. “Nobody’s showed me that yet.”

The bill’s supporters suggested that women may not be able to complain about their unequal pay because they are not permitted to discuss it, or because they are not aware of their protections under the law.

Judy Stadtman of New Hampshire AFL-CIO said the bill would “remove workplace barriers that prevent women from being fully informed about their pay status.”

The bill would allow employees to discuss their pay with co-workers, require employers to include equal pay information on posters displayed in the workplace and fine employers up to $10,000 for violating the law. The version introduced yesterday allows imprisonment for up to six months on a second offense, though Larsen said she intends to remove that portion of the bill.

Sanborn released a statement saying he agrees with Larsen that better data and clearer information from the Department of Labor are needed. He did not express support for the bill.

“We certainly shouldn’t need to pass a law to get the Department of Labor to post New Hampshire’s Equal Pay protections more prominently on its website, but if that’s what it takes, we will,” he said.

The bill is co-sponsored by every Democratic senator, House Speaker Terie Norelli and other Democratic state representatives. Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan also supports the proposed legislation.

“Ensuring that both women and men can earn equal pay for an equal day’s work is essential to our economic future,” Hassan wrote in a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee. “We must reduce the strain that pay disparity puts on thousands of families and help strengthen our middle class.”

A similar bill is also proposed in the Democratic-controlled House this year.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)


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