Bill aims to close gender wage gap

Bill aims to close gender wage gap

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii has the third-smallest gender wage gap in the nation.

But according to the U.S. Census, women in Hawaii still make only 86 cents for every dollar a man makes.

"We figure women lose $1.4 billion in wages they should have earned," said state Sen. Rosalyn Baker.

That's why she and others are looking to close the gap by changing the language of the land. Currently, the equal pay law says women should get equal pay for equal work. Senate Bill 2313 would amend that to read "substantially similar work."

"It's so important that employers know they cannot unreasonably use sex as a measure of an employee's worth," Baker said.

The bill also allows employees to discuss their wages with co-workers.

Supporters of the bill point to a 2010 survey, which found that 23 percent of private-sector workers were prohibited from discussing wages and salaries.  Another 38 percent were discouraged from doing so.

"If you really don't know what your colleagues are being paid for similar work or equal work, you really can't take action if you're being discriminated against," said state Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland.

Written into the bill are protections for employees who feel they are being discriminated against.

"The bill makes it very clear that the employer should not take any negative action against employees that discuss their pay with each other," Chun Oakland said.

The bill has already passed two readings.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee will tackle the bill Wednesday at 1:15 p.m. in conference room 211.

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