Bill to close gender pay gap advances in Legislature
ST. PAUL — Minnesota women on average are paid 80 percent of wages men receive, and women who own businesses earn just 60 percent of male entrepreneurs.
Bills to help close that gender pay gap are nearing votes in the Minnesota House and Senate. The House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday approved the measure on a split voice vote, sending it to the full House.
The bill by Rep. Carly Melin, D-Hibbing, would make several law changes, including:
• Forcing many businesses that contract with the state to pay women the same as men when they do the same jobs.
• Requiring businesses to allow nursing mothers to express breast milk on the job.
• Giving pregnant women accommodations such as more frequent restroom breaks.
• Increasing unpaid parental leave from six to 12 weeks.
• Creating a grant program to recruit and train women in some jobs.
“When women have equal opportunities to succeed, it means stronger families, stronger communities and a brighter economic future for our state,” Melin said.
Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said he agrees with what the bill tries to do, but he was critical that Melin did not know how much it could cost the state.
McNamara said the bill will cost public funds because more state work will be needed to make sure contractors offer equal pay. And, he added, no one seems to know how much that cost will be.
“This bill is not ready to deal with those implications the way it is right now,” he said.
Melin agreed with McNamara that state costs could rise in cases when state officials discover women are underpaid and order that women get raises.
Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey said he did not think it could cost more.
The state contract provision applies to businesses with at least 50 employees and get more than $500,000 from the state.
McNamara said businesses could get around the law if they have fewer than 50 workers, but hire subcontractors with more employees. Melin said the bill, as written, does not apply to subcontractors.
Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said businesses wanting to do business with the state would be forced to do more paperwork, which would increase the costs they charge. “Or they may not even go out for that bid, so we are shrinking the pool ... and that raises the costs.”
Rep. Tom Anzelc, D-Balsam Lake, said most state contractors’ workers are in unions and they already pay men and women equally. “Women are covered, clearly.”
Earlier, Rep. John Persell, D-Bemidji, said the pay debate has been around a long time.
“This goes back more than 100 years,” Persell said. “My mother was a women’s liberation person. To all the men out there who have a problem with this: You need to put your big boy pants on and deal with this. Our mothers and daughters and sisters need this.”
A similar bill is one step away from a full Senate debate.
Sonja Hegman contributed to this story. She writes for the nonpartisan Session Daily (www.house.leg.state.mn.us/sessiondaily) in the Minnesota House Public Information Office.