On April 18, 2018

Legislative reminders of inequality

By Senator Alison Clarkson

It was a real treat to see “1776” at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction and to be invited to participate in the “talk back” with the audience after the show. In response to our current political climate, the show’s producers had hoped to encourage debate about our aspirational values embedded in the Declaration of Independence and the political process, which produced the final document. They have succeeded admirably.

The musical holds up a mirror to the sometimes messy business of democracy. It explores the successes and challenges of a representative system of government. We are the inheritors of the problems of the “great compromise”/“dark compromise” – which removed slavery from the final draft. This wonderful production has begun a terrific Upper Valley conversation about the political process, racism, the Enlightenment’s influence on our Founders’ values and how we balance our beliefs and values with practical governance. If you are interested in engaging further in this civic discussion, I encourage you to visit their website: www.the1776project.org.

Of course, in addition to slaves, another group left out of the Declaration of Independence was women. Half the population has been trying to catch up ever since. The effort is ongoing, and was acknowledged on Tuesday, April 10 – with “Equal Pay Day.” This date is identified as the day in the year when women’s pay catches up with men’s. On average women in Vermont earn about 86 percent of what men earn – and the wage gap is worse for women of color or disabled women (80 percent for Hispanics, 58 percent for Asians, 37 percent for the disabled and nationally 63 percent for Black and 57 percent for Native Americans). Women represent 45 percent of Vermont’s workforce. Closing the wage gap would not only add $1 billion into Vermont’s economy it would reduce our poverty rate by 57 percent. It would improve women’s lives, help families make ends meet and increase Vermont’s income tax base and grow Vermont’s economy. Governor Scott signed a resolution in a public ceremony acknowledging we need to fill this gap and voicing support for the bill H. 294.

Senate Economic Development is working on this bill, H.294 which we hope will be an additional tool to break the cycle of pay inequity and further help Vermont eliminate the wage gap. This bill would prohibit prospective employers from requesting a job applicant’s salary history, use current or past compensation as criteria for application, or to determine whether to interview based on current or past compensation. Too often women unknowingly perpetuate inequitable compensation when they are asked to provide their salary history in the job interview process.

The problem begins right out of college – with men being offered 6.6 percent more than women. And, in a study which analyzed job offers – with the same job/same title, 69 percent of the time men were offered more in compensation. The Vermont Commission on Women and the Change The Story project have been very helpful in further illuminating this persistent problem and highlighting this opportunity for change.

On Monday, April 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit helped us close the wage gap by ruling in the case Rizo v. Fresno County Office of Education that employers can no longer justify paying women less than a man doing similar work because of her salary history.

I appreciate hearing from you. I can be reached by email: aclarkson@leg.state.vt.us or by phone at the Statehouse (Tues-Fri) 828-2228 or at home (Sat-Mon) 457-4627. To get more information on the Vermont Legislature, and the bills which have been proposed and passed, visit the legislative website: legislature.vermont.gov.

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