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Lawmakers aim to shoot down wage discrimination

SALEM — The Oregon Senate unanimously approved a bill on Wednesday that outlaws wage discrimination that is prevalent in the state based on gender, race and disability.

The bill, which was earlier passed by the House, allows an employee who prevails in a complaint with the Bureau of Labor and Industries to recover back pay for up to two years.

According to the Oregon Commission for Women, for every dollar paid to a white male, women who work full-time, year-round are paid 81 cents, with Asian women earning 79 cents, black women 68 cents and Latina women only 51 cents. Workers with disabilities who have at least a high school education earn 37 percent less on average than their peers without disabilities, according to Disability Rights Oregon Executive Director Bob Joondeph.

If the bill becomes law, an employer may still pay employees different amounts based on seniority, merit, quality of production, experience, education, training and other factors.

Observers said it was a newsworthy moment of bipartisan cooperation in the Legislature.

"In this day and age of partisan politics, a compromise measure this successful, I think, counts as man bites dog," said Robin Maxey, spokesman for Senate President Peter Courtney.

Senate Republican Deputy Leader Tim Knopp, of Bend, worked on the bill and said it will help protect workers from the pay inequity.

"Passing the Oregon Equal Pay Act is another recent example of the tremendous work that can be done in the Legislature when both parties work together to improve the lives of all Oregonians," Knopp said.

Sen. Kathleen Taylor, a Democrat from Portland who championed the bill, thanked Knopp on the floor of the Senate for bringing stakeholders to the table to get consensus on the measure. She said it will ensure that workers across Oregon "receive the compensation they deserve."

The bill next goes back to the House for consideration with the Senate's amendments.