A Long-Delayed Equal Pay Bill Comes Back to Life in Olympia

Ashley Stewart at the Puget Sound Business Journal says a long-delayed bill that provides more opportunities to fight gender pay inequality is now on the move again in the Washington state legislature. House Bill 1646 was held up last year in the state Senate, but it’s been tightened and refocused, thanks to “groups including the Washington Technology Industry Association, Microsoft and Legal Voice,” and it’s about to hit the spotlight again.

If passed, this would be the first revision of the state’s equal pay law since 1943. You can read the text of the bill here (PDF), but the gist of it is that any “employer in this state who discriminates in providing compensation based on gender between similarly employed individuals is guilty of a misdemeanor.” It allows victims of discrimination to recover their pay through civil action, and it makes it illegal for an employer to demand “nondisclosure by an employee of his or her wages as a condition of employment.”

“Women often don’t even know if they’re being underpaid,” said state Rep. Tana Senn, the Mercer Island Democrat who introduced the bill. “Women can’t ask for more or resolve the difference if there’s pay secrecy.”

House Bill 1646 is particularly aimed to improve the tech sector—a huge driver of Washington’s booming economy, and one of the worst industries when it comes to gender inclusion. Stewart writes, “Women make up 17 percent of software engineers nationally, for example, and only 14 percent in Washington state.”

Workplace inclusion is so necessary. We solve problems through inclusion—we need as many different perspectives and solutions as possible—and if we continue to exclude or marginalize fifty percent of the population, other nations will overtake the United States as the most diverse, inclusive economy in the world. This is a first step toward creating a more inclusive environment in Washington state. It’s about time.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.