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Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Equal pay law should be improved

By Susan Wurtzburg and Younghee Overly

The AAUW, a nonprofit headquartered in Washington, D.C., with a Hawaii state organization and six local branches, is committed to promoting women’s equality in education, work and leadership. AAUW-Hawaii is active in supporting state legislation to diminish the gender pay gap.

A recent success was the passage of Senate Bill 2351 (Equal Pay) in the 2018 legislative session, which was signed into law (Act 108) by Gov. David Ige on July 5. Act 108 now mandates that employers may not request previous salary information from job applicants. This should help women to avoid taking a gender penalty into new employment.

Given this history, one might ask: “That was 2018, but what is happening now?” We would direct attention to the recent flurry of bills introduced at the state Capitol: On Jan. 24, state Rep. Aaron Ling Johanson, House Committee on Labor and Public Employment chairman, introduced HB1192, “relating to equal pay,” while Sen. Brian Taniguchi, Senate Committee on Labor, Culture and the Arts chairman, introduced the companion bill, SB1375.

These two bills are important for women and ethnic-minority workers in Hawaii, who are paid less than white men, based on full-time employees’ median wage data. Women as a group are paid 81 percent of what white male employees in Hawaii get, and women of color receive still lower wages. These numbers are worse than in 2015, when women’s pay was 84 percent of men’s in Hawaii. These data are from American Community Surveys, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, and appear on the AAUW-National website, along with other resources.

With the worsening of women’s salaries in Hawaii, it is important to pass this year’s equal pay bill to drive improvements. The bill focuses on “pay transparency,” the definition of paid work, and “protected classes,” among other issues. None of these are particularly sexy topics, but they are all fundamental for achieving a fairer workplace environment in Hawaii, so women, and those who live with, or care about women should pay attention and submit supportive testimony.

“Pay transparency” deals with just that: allowing employees to understand how potential and current employers set wage rates for different types of positions. Currently, employers do not have to provide a salary range in job advertisements. This means that employees may face gender penalties in job offers received. This is one of the many factors underpinning the current gender differences in salaries identified across the U.S.

The definition of “work” allows wage comparisons across job types and industries. There has been a move to use the term “substantially similar work” on the mainland. This allows for a more thoughtful consideration of salaries, based on the examination of the actual tasks, rather than just the job titles.

We know that bias and stereotypes of employers affect the wages of people perceived to be different from their colleagues. Naming differences, as “protected classes” is a way of shielding people from employment harm, and providing them with legal redress when they are harmed. For this reason, an expansion of “protected classes” to include “gender identity or expression, arrest and court record, or domestic or sexual violence victim status,” among others, is important, and a welcome step forward in a time of increased hate crimes and discriminatory actions.

Greater attention paid to factors diminishing women’s pay packets in comparison to those of their male colleagues results in a happier work force. These types of laws benefit employers as well as employees, in moving Hawaii toward a more gender- equitable work environment.


AAUW Honolulu members Younghee Overly and Susan Wurtzburg penned this op-ed about what issues regarding pay equality still need to be addressed in the new state legislative session. Read it here or if you aren’t a subscriber to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, read it below.

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