House OKs bill to allow workers to discuss wages
SALEM — House lawmakers narrowly passed a bill Tuesday prohibiting employers from punishing employees who ask other employees about what they are paid, part of a package of bills designed to close the wage gap between male and female workers.
Employees who want to discuss wage information with their peers are not protected from disciplinary action under current law, said bill sponsor Rep. Shemia Fagan, D-Clackamas.
Comparing pay can help employees make judgments on whether they are being treated fairly, Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Brad Avakian has said.
But Fagan says studies show women in particular are wary of discussing or inquiring about raises or salaries out of concern they might be disciplined. "This is a simple and modest first step to making sure that Oregon women earn equal pay for equal work," she said.
Legislators opposed to the proposal argue it could damage the relationship between employers and employees while sowing seeds of discontent and distrust amongst coworkers. Others worried it could impede employers from firing workers for other reasons, who could then retaliate by suing them under the guise of wage protection.
"Employers need to be freed up to do business without the boot of government on its neck," said Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Cove.
More than 15 business associations — including the Associated Oregon Industries, the Oregon Bankers Association and the Oregon State Chamber of Commerce — signed a letter urging legislators to vote no on the bill.
A report by the Oregon Council on Civil Rights, an advisory board appointed by the state's labor commissioner, found Oregonian women were paid 79 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earned. The wage transparency bill is part of a package addressing formal recommendations the council made to tackle pay inequality.
The other measure addressing the wage gap would make it illegal to pay men and women different wages for doing comparable jobs. That bill is awaiting a vote in a House committee.
Avakian testified during a public hearing on the bill in February that some employers continue to discipline employees for talking about their earnings, and this is a serious barrier for equal pay.
"It is much harder to find out if you are being paid fairly if you can't talk to your coworkers. And if you can't find out how your pay compares to others who do the same work, you can't advocate to be paid equally," Avakian said.
The bill passed the House 34-24. It now heads to the Senate for consideration.