Over the past three weeks, I’ve been repeatedly refreshing the Wyoming Legislature’s website to check the status of three bills that could put a dent in the Equality State’s gender wage gap.
And it’s a sizable gap, according to a study published in late 2018 by the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services. Wyoming women earn 68 cents for every dollar men earn — and that is only considering people who work the same number of hours, year-round, in the same occupation with the same experience and education.
The study could not account for more complex factors, such as gender discrimination, the “motherhood penalty,” valuing traditional “men’s work” above “women’s” (think: higher-paid construction workers vs. lower-paid office managers) and other unconscious biases. With those added to the mix, women’s average earnings would be even lower.
In late November, former Rep. Marti Halverson, R-Etna, introduced the study to the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Committee, along with a trio of bills that would tackle the gender wage gap. After a lengthy debate, the committee voted to introduce all three at the general legislative session in January.
Last week, the House of Representatives passed two of the bills and one failed.
Let’s start with the bad news.
Addressing wage transparency, House Bill 72 would have ensured that employers can’t prevent their employees from publicly discussing their wages. We know that one reason for the wage gap is female employees don’t know that they are earning less than their male counterparts. If wages were publicly available, underpaid workers could better negotiate.
On Jan. 16, the bill didn’t make it out of the Committee of the Whole, tallying 32 nays and 27 ayes.
Moving on to the good news.
Passed unanimously, House Bill 71 will increase equal pay penalties from a fine of $200 to $500 and/or up to six months of imprisonment.
House Bill 84, which passed with 39 ayes and 18 nays, will promote wage equality in state employment through reporting and analyzing wage information every other year. In addition to the government making adjustments, businesses that apply for grants from the Wyoming Business Council will also have to comply.
Of course, these bills will not change everything overnight, but they could start to fill the gap.
But they are not law yet. In the next few weeks, the bills must progress through the Senate before they hit Gov. Mark Gordon’s desk.
If you want to make a difference, tell your state senator that you support House Bills 71 and 84. In Sheridan County, Bo Biteman (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers District 21 and Dave Kinskey, District 22 (email@example.com).
When I write to my legislators about the gender wage gap, I remind them that it is not a partisan issue. It affects all women — mothers, sisters, Republicans, Democrats.
December 2019 marks the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Wyoming. Let’s keep our state moving toward equality.
Editor’s note: The first two columns in this series were published in The Sheridan Press Dec. 1 and 8.