Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Senate Democrats back pay equity bills that GOP-dominated Ohio Legislature has ignored before

 L-R Sen. Kent Smith (D-Euclid), Sen. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo) and Stephanie Bridwell, president Business and Professional Women of Ohio, speaking to reporters about their support for pay equity bills at the Ohio Statehouse
L-R Sen. Kent Smith (D-Euclid), Sen. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo) and Stephanie Bridwell, president Business and Professional Women of Ohio, speaking to reporters about their support for pay equity bills at the Ohio Statehouse

Just as hundreds of statewide and national reports on pay equity continue to show women make less than men, the fight for pay equity continues in the Ohio Legislature. Two Democratic Senators have re-introduced two bills that have been considered before but didn’t move much.

In 2017, a bill was introduced that established a hotline to report, even anonymously, situations involving a lack of pay equity. In 2021, that bill was reintroduced by Sen. Kent Smith (D-Euclid), along with another that would have given businesses that pay men and women equally a designation so the public would know.

Smith is reintroducing both of those bills along with his colleague, Sen. Paula Hicks-Hudson (D-Toledo).

“I do know that there are women who are working right next to a male doing the same job and getting paid less,” Hicks-Hudson said. "And even in this country and even in this time, that should not happen."

Smith cited research from the Institute for Women’s Policy and Research that shows it’s harder to achieve pay equity as a working mom. That report compared the median pay for full time working white mothers at $46,421 a year to that of white fathers, at $64,738 annually. Smith said Ohio ranks 31 out 50 states in the pay gap between mothers and fathers.

Stephanie Bridwell, the president of Business and Professional Women of Ohio, cited a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce report in announcing her group’s support of the bills.

“There are an average of 62 workers to fill every 100 job openings in the state of Ohio,” Bridwell said. “Pay equity is an absolutely essential basis for a stable and productive workforce.”

Bridwell said workers would be more interested in working for a company provides equal pay for equal work.

Maddie McClung of the Women's Fund of Ohio said women in Central Ohio have median full-time incomes of $41,000. But she said a 2018 report from her group found women of color or in certain geographical areas earn less.

“A 20-year-old woman in Ohio just starting full time, year round work in Ohio today stands to lose around $507,000 over a 40-year career compared with her male counterpart,” McClung said. “The situation is even worse when you consider women of color, specifically Black and Latina women. Over a 40-year career, Black women in Ohio typically lose about $718,000, and Latinas will lose about $791,000.”

McClung said the Federal Reserve estimates if gender and racial wealth gaps were closed from 2005 to 2019, Ohio GDP would have increased by $67 billion.

Business and GOP leaders have concerns

Rick Carfagna is the senior vice president of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and a Republican former state lawmaker. He said it's important to remember the current business climate.

"Given the current workforce shortages across all sectors of our economy, employers need all hands on deck and that means making all demographics feel welcome. They can ill afford to hamstring any of their help with all of the open jobs that we have that are available on the market," Carfagna said.

In the past, Carfagna said the chamber has opposed the bill to establish a hotline to report employers. He said there's no need because wage discrimination on the basis of gender is prohibited under federal and state law, and businesses can be held accountable through investigations and the judicial system.

"It's the proper process for reporting discrimination because it is an open process where the respondent has knowledge of the charge filed, it has an opportunity to respond and it also requires the charging party to sign the charges under oath, which should prevent any charges going forward that are baseless claims," Carfagna said.

Carfagna said the chamber hasn't taken a position on the bill. He said he likes the thrust of a proposal offering a designation for businesses that pay equally, but the details on that would be important.

The pay equity bills Smith and Hicks-Hudson are sponsoring would need support from supermajority Republicans in the Ohio House and Senate. And so far, there’s no indication they are paying much attention to the legislation.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) told reporters he is unaware of them and won't weigh in on them now. But his spokesman, John Fortney, added: “Democrats love to lecture others about fairness, yet performance, competence, and qualifications seem to have little to no merit for yet another bill introduced by them in an election year.”

Sponsor says this could go beyond the legislature

Smith said he hasn’t given up, noting the bills were first introduced at the height of the pandemic—so he’s introducing them again to give lawmakers a chance to pass them. But he said the legislature isn’t the only way to get these programs put in place.

“We don’t need this bill to become law to fix this problem. We just need to fix this problem and we propose two different solutions. A city government or the Better Business Bureau or the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. If somebody wants to sponsor this and as long as it is a credible evaluator that 11.5 million Ohioans can trust, then I think yea, that’s good progress that will close this pay equity gap,” Smith said.
Copyright 2024 The Statehouse News Bureau.