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Why do you keep blocking women's shot at equal pay, Gov. Rauner?

Crain's Chicago Business

Tuesday, October 9, 2018  |  Article  |  Melissa Josephs

Women Employed

 

For the second time, Gov. Bruce Rauner has vetoed a bill that would help reduce the wage gap between men and women in Illinois by preventing employers from asking job applicants about their previous salary. In declining to sign the No Salary History bill, which would strengthen the existing Illinois Equal Pay Act, Rauner is perpetuating the income inequalities that exist in our state by allowing employers to use wage histories to determine salary offers, rather than pay workers what a job is worth and what their qualifications demand. 

 

This hiring practice, though commonplace, is inherently inequitable—women in Illinois already make only 79 cents to each dollar made by their white male counterparts. When that disparity is made to follow them because employers want to tie their pay to what they made in the past, women and their families suffer. States across the country have recognized that discrepancy, with Oregon, Connecticut, California, and Vermont among those who’ve passed laws prohibiting employers from requiring that job seekers share their salary history. The Governor pointed to one such state in his amendatory veto message, recommending that Illinois model its bill on a similar law in Massachusetts he describes as ‘best-in-the-country’, though it went into effect on July 1st and so has barely been tested. 

 

But what the Massachusetts law offers, and what Rauner wants to see in Illinois’ law, is a get-out-of-jail free card for employers who pay unequal wages, as long as they do a ‘self-evaluation’ of their own practices and say they have made progress in addressing wage inequities. This means an employer could still pay women less than men but not be in violation of the Equal Pay Act, and therefore face no repercussions for pay discrimination. 

 

In explaining his veto, Rauner also said that Illinois legislators refused to follow a bipartisan approach and balance the interests of the business community. But the No Salary History bill passed both chambers of the General Assembly with bi-partisan support, and the lead sponsors did respond to business interests and included exceptions to the bill that would allow employers to ask applicants about their prior salary if the information is a matter of public record, or the applicant is applying for a job with the same employer. It seems those two concessions were not enough for Rauner, who also wants the bill to allow employers to ask about a candidate’s prior salary once a job and salary offer have been made. Why would an employer want this information at that stage, if not to lower the offer once they learned the applicant used to make less, or to use the information in negotiating future lower raises? 

 

Finally, Rauner’s amendatory veto eliminates the entire penalties section that now exists for wage gap violations in the Illinois Equal Pay Act and replaces it with very limited fines that would only be paid to the state. By taking away the current right of an aggrieved employee to file a civil action, the governor would leave workers without any avenues for pursuing compensation for being paid less than they deserve or being asked about their past salary. That makes the law essentially toothless, as workers would have no incentives to file charges even when their rights to equal pay have been violated.  

 

The No Salary History law would put employers and workers on a level playing field during negotiations, and the governor’s proposed amendments would undermine that. Illinois should amend our Equal Pay Act and override the governor’s veto during the fall legislative session. Past wages have nothing to do with future performance and relying on salary history only perpetuates discrimination. 

 

Melissa Josephs is director of equal opportunity policy at Women Employed, a Chicago-based nonprofit advocacy group.