Iowa Senate approves bill banning wage discrimination

Following up on this morning’s action alert, I am pleased to report that the Iowa Senate approved a bill ending wage discrimination today. From a Senate Democrats press release:

Today the Iowa Senate voted to outlaw wage discrimination based on age, race, religion, gender and the other protected classes cited in the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

“Your pay should be based on your job performance, not your religion, age or gender,” said State Senator Staci Appel of Ackworth, Chair of the State Government Committee and the bill’s floor manager.  “This is particularly important for the many Iowa families where women work outside the home.  When an Iowa mom is paid what she is worth, the entire family benefits.”

“Iowa voters are urging us to focus on protecting and growing the middle class,” said Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal.  “Today’s vote to outlaw wage discrimination is just this session’s first step in that direction.”

The legislation, Iowa ‘s version of the federal Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, will have particularly positive impact for Iowa women and their families.  Iowa currently ranks 37th among states when it comes to gender wage equity.  Under Senate File 127, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission would have the ability to award double the wage differential for the period of time the discrimination occurred and up to three times that wage differential in cases of willful violation.

The legislation applies only to employers who have four or more employees.  It does not apply to wage differences that result from a seniority system, a merit system, a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, or is based on any other factor other than the age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, or disability of the employee.

The legislation now goes to the Iowa House for its consideration.

It was a straight party-line vote: 32 Democratic senators in favor, 18 Republicans opposed. Like they say, elections have consequences.

Note: when the U.S. Senate approved the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 last month, four Republicans joined all the Democrats and independents in support of the bill. That included three women Republicans in the U.S. Senate. I wonder why the three women in the Iowa Senate Republican caucus are less concerned about wage discrimination.

The Des Moines Register provides some background on the problem in Iowa:

It’s taboo in the private business world for workers to compare salaries, so Iowa women with careers in finance and insurance may not know that Iowa men earn about $78,000 a year on average, while women bring in $40,000. […]

Iowa’s female workers – both hourly and salaried – earn 78 cents for every dollar male workers make, according to data from Iowa Workforce Development.

For example, in retail home furnishing stores in Iowa, men make $36,000 a year on average while women earn $22,000, according to a study of 1.45 million Iowa workers’ 2007 wages.

In food service, men bring in $13,000, while women take home $10,000.

In Iowa hospitals, men earn $61,000, women make $37,000.

Even in elementary and secondary schools, men make $35,000 a year on average, while women earn $27,000.

These industry averages could reflect factors such as differences in experience and job skills, but also reveal a disproportionately lower wage for women overall, state officials said.

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