Minimum wage, equal pay for women, increase will benefit families

Published 10:22 am Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Before kicking off a week-long recess, the DFL-led legislature took some significant steps to strengthen Minnesota families.

On April 9, state lawmakers in the Minnesota House of Representatives passed the Women’s Economic Security Act with strong bipartisan support by a vote of 106-24. A diverse coalition of people and organizations support this bill, including the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and many more.

This legislation will help women earn equal pay for equal work, strengthen protections for pregnant women in the workplace and increase opportunities for women to enter high-wage, high-demand professions.

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Research from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs shows that women in Minnesota on average earn 80 cents for every dollar men earn. In Greater Minnesota, the gender pay gap is even worse at 73 cents to the dollar.

During committee hearings earlier this year, Minnesota women shared personal stories to shine a spotlight on challenges they face in the workplace. One woman told lawmakers she was fired after asking to take two short breaks during the workday to breastfeed her infant. Another woman spoke about how her boss threatened to terminate her after asking to earn a wage equal to a less experienced male coworker.

Taking steps to ensure women have equal opportunities to succeed in the workplace will benefit Minnesota families and build on the positive economic momentum we’re seeing throughout our state. 
Some of the major provisions in the Women’s Economic Security Act would:

• Enforce pay equity requirements for private businesses with state contracts.

• Allow mothers to stay in the workforce by expanding unpaid leave under the Minnesota Parental Leave Act from 6 to 12 weeks.

• Ban employers from disciplining employees if they voluntarily discuss their compensation.

• Enforce workplace protections for nursing mothers to express breast milk during unpaid break times.

• Expand support for employers and workforce organizations to recruit, prepare, place and retain women in high-wage, high-demand professions such as computer science and engineering.

One day after House lawmakers approved the Women’s Economic Security Act, we voted to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour for large employers and $7.75 for small employers by 2016 and give minimum wage workers an annual pay raise based on the rate of inflation starting in 2018. Governor Dayton signed the bill into law on Monday.

More than 350,000 Minnesotans will receive a raise thanks to this legislation, of which more than 200,000 are women. The bill will also improve the lives of more than 130,000 Minnesota children whose moms and dads are low-wage workers.

Like the Women’s Economic Security Act, a broad coalition of Minnesotans advocated for a minimum wage increase, including the Minnesota Children’s Defense Fund, ISAIAH (a faith-based coalition of more than 100 member congregations), the Minnesota Council of Non-Profits, League of Women Voters, the Greater Minnesota Worker Center and many more.

Under the bill, the minimum wage increase will be implemented in phases over several years. In addition, lawmakers built in a provision to suspend automatic increases in future economic downturns. This is a reasonable approach that balances the need to give minimum wage workers greater economic security while addressing legitimate concerns expressed by some business owners.

When state lawmakers return from our week-long recess, we will take up legislation that will help to continue growing our economy from the middle-out.

Some of our top priorities include passing a strong, bipartisan bonding bill and finalizing a supplemental budget that invests in priorities like education, broadband development and a farm-to-food shelf program. I look forward to providing additional updates about these priorities during the second half of the 2014 Legislative Session.

Please contact me with any questions, comments or other feedback. You can reach me by phone at (651) 296-4193, by email, or by postal mail at 487 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155.