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House passes bill modifying Equal Pay Act, 56-41

by caprecord

The House passed a bill off the floor Wednesday that makes it easier for coworkers to share information about their salaries and aims to prevent gender discrimination in the workplace.

House Bill 1646 modifies the state’s Equal Pay Act so that an employer cannot retaliate against workers for wage discussions in the workplace. It also prohibits employers from assigning people “less favorable” jobs because of their gender.

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Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island, is the sponsor of the bill. She said paying people differently for the same job is “unfair, unbelievable and frankly un-American.”

“Today’s fight is about equal pay,” she said. “We are not asking business to rearrange their payroll. We simply are asking … for people to have the information they need to make the most basic of informed decisions.”

Under the bill, workers can seek actual damages or statutory damages of up to $5,000 and attorney fees if the Equal Pay Act is violated.

Rep. Luanne Van Werven, R-Lynden, urged a no vote on the bill. “I have concerns that this will do nothing to empower women, however, it will empower attorneys,” she said.

She said women have been protected under federal law since 1963. “It is against the law to not provide equal pay for equal work,” she said.

Members debated an amendment before passing the bill that would have eliminated the section that makes it a “violation for receiving less favorable employment opportunities,” among other things.

Republican Rep. Shelly Short of Addy introduced the amendment, saying it was important to have  “succinct direction to both our employers and employees.”

But Democrats said the amendment waters down the bill. Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, said the amendment would make the bill “almost ineffective in actually doing anything.”

The amendment failed. The final bill passed on a 56-41 vote.