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Government/Politics

Some Ohio Lawmakers Are Trying To Achieve Equal Pay In A Different Way

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The approach is carrot versus stick.

Attempts to change Ohio law to require employers to pay women and men equally have been unsuccessful. Those bills have been mostly supported by Democrats who, for the past two decades, have been in the minority. Now there’s a new effort underway and lawmakers are taking a different approach.

In 1963, Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, which made it illegal for employers to pay women lower wages than men for equal work on jobs requiring the same skill, effort, and responsibility.

Yet Democratic Rep. Monique Smith (D-Fairview Park) says women continue to be paid less than men.

“There is a study by the National Women's Law Center that is as recent as was released this year. In 2021. It says that Ohio is ranked third in pay equity and the average working woman in Ohio is paid only 79 cents per dollar per male counterpart. And that's just in general across all Ohio women and Ohio men,” Smith says.

And Smith says it’s worse when broken down by race and ethnicity.

“Black women make 63 cents on the dollar of white male counterparts. Hispanic women make 60 cents and it goes on and on. So, there is just so much data to reflect this that has been done by a number of organizations, including the Institute for Women's Policy Research and a number of others. So it's right there in front of our eyes. It's just a question of whether we care to try to do anything about it,” Smith says.

Smith is one of the Democrats backing legislation that would require companies that do business with the state to file a document that assures men and women are paid the same for equal work. It has yet to have a hearing. Throughout the years, various bills designed to level the playing field in different ways have been introduced but never gain traction.

“Instead of new legislation that seeks to punish employers who are not paying men and women equally, let’s reward the businesses that have adopted the equal pay for equal work practice,” Smith says.

That’s Rep Kent Smith (D-Euclid) – not related to Rep.Monique Smith. He’s sponsoring a new bill that he thinks is carrot versus stick. It would allow businesses that are already paying men and women equally to apply for a special “Fair Paycheck Workplace” designation.

“The Ohio Department of Commerce would, you know, would create a program to help evaluate the payroll records of businesses that are seeking to gain the fair paycheck. Workplace designation businesses would have to submit payroll records with the gender of every employee identified if the average salary of men and women were within five percentage points. So they would qualify and then that payroll records would be resubmitted six months from that point and then, you know, annually from that point forward. So again, it's permissive, not punitive,” Smith says.

Both Democrats hope this new bill will win support from majority Republicans who have been reluctant to take up equal pay legislation in the past. One key group that has often opposed such legislation is the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. Its attorney, Kevin Shimp, explains why his group has opposed equal pay proposals in the legislature in the past.

“Ohio's economic growth depends on women feeling welcome in the workforce, so we support laws that prohibit discrimination of businesses that violate Ohio law should be held accountable. However, we oppose legislation that will lead to Ohio businesses diverting energy resources and lawful business practices,” Shimp says.

But Shimp says the group is willing to take a fresh look at the new “Fair Paycheck Workplace” that’s being proposed.

“We are appreciative of the bill's sponsors looking at this as an alternative route,” Shimp says.

Rep. Kent Smith says he’s willing to work with the majority party to come up with a way to reward employers who are paying men and women equally.

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