Legislators look at bridging gender pay gap

Lawmakers want to limit possible employer defenses for paying men more than women for doing the same work.
Crosscut archive image.

Jean Godden

Lawmakers want to limit possible employer defenses for paying men more than women for doing the same work.

Jean Godden used to be one of six columnists for the now-closed Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper. The other five were men. Then, Godden, who is now a Seattle City Council member, found out she was the lowest paid of the six.

That made her angry.

"I don't want another woman to face the same problem I faced with wage discrimination," Godden said at a Thursday announcement of two proposed bills in Washington's Legislature to tackle the disparity between what men and women are paid for similar work.

"Even today, women are paid 80 cents for every dollar earned by men for similar work," said Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island. Senn and Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, plan to introduce companion bills to require employers to provide valid reasons — such as differences in education, training or experience — if employees challenge pay disparities between workers of the opposite sex for essentially the same work.

The proposed bills would allow gender-based pay disputes to be taken to an administrative judge at the Washington Department of Labor & Industries. The bills would also forbid employers from ordering workers not to disclose their salaries, and would forbid ordering employees from sharing pay information with each other. Nine states have similar laws.

In 2013, Washington had the nation's 21st largest wage gap between women and men in the nation, according to the National Women’s Law Center. U.S. Census Bureau data shows that a woman is the sole or main breadwinner in 40 percent of families.

In Washington, the federal census and the 2013 American Community Survey showed the pay gap between sexes increases as the level of education rises. For example, men 25 and older with high school diplomas in Washington made some $8,000 to $9,000 annually more than women of the same age and education. Among bachelor’s degree holders, men were earning nearly $20,000 more than women in Washington, according to the 2013 data. And male Washingtonians with graduate degrees earn about $24,000 more annually than women with graduate degrees. The Seattle-based social issues think tank Economic Opportunity Institute crunched the census and survey numbers.

Also in Washington, men earn a few thousand dollars more annually than women in the food services, other services and administrative support fields. In health technician jobs, men average roughly a little less than $60,000 annually, while women average slightly more than $40,000 a year.

The gaps in Washington widen significantly in management, computer and math jobs. Among men in management, pay in this state averages roughly $85,000 a year, while the average woman manager receives about $61,000. In the computer and math fields, the average male makes a bit less than $100,000 a year, while the average woman earns just over $75,000.

The bill sponsors expressed optimism about winning approval for their measure. Senn said she had collected 55 cosponsors for her bill so far — a majority of the 98-member House of Representatives. Cleveland said she is “very, very hopeful" of getting one of the bills through the Senate.

For exclusive coverage of the state government, check out Crosscut's Under the Dome page.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8