BOSTON — The House has unanimously passed legislation that seeks to reduce the wage gap between men and women.
The measure passed by a vote of 158-0 and would make it illegal for employers to pay employees different wages because of their gender or pay employees less because of their gender.
“We are using market-driven items to determine compensation,” said Rep. Patricia Haddad, a Somerset Democrat involved in the House’s negotiations on the bill before it was reported out of committee earlier this week. “This is going to be a cultural shift that we all have to work towards.”
The bill still needs to clear a conference committee before it heads to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk. He has not yet indicated how he will act on the legislation, though earlier this week he said equal pay was one of the “big six items” that he, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg hoped to see completed before the end of session at the end of the month.
House members had nothing but support in the formal discussion on the floor.
“As I think about the history-making nature of the bill before us, we are standing on the shoulders of and giving thanks to the many feminists who have toiled for decades to bring us where we are today,” said Rep. Sarah Peake of Provincetown.
The measure is nearly 20 years in the making.
“This is a good day,” said Rep. Ellen Story, who began working on pay-equity legislation in 1998. Story has represented Amherst in the House since 1992, and is retiring at the end of this session.
Rep. Shaunna O’Connell, a Taunton Republican, proposed and then withdrew three amendments to the legislation to ensure that the law, when passed, would also apply to state government.
“We’re about to pass a bill intended to ensure equal pay for all. It will put some additional burdens and mandates on employers but one that they can deal with,” O’Connell said before the vote was taken. “It is seen as the right thing to do and that’s why we have so many people here today. If it’s the right thing to do for private business, it’s the right thing to do for state government as well.”
Earlier this week, business group Associated Industries of Massachusetts came out in support of the House legislation — a departure from AIM’s opposition to the Senate version of the bill.
“The biggest thing that caused AIM to support this is that the bill really explicitly recognizes that there are a lot of different reasons why people earn different wages even if they have the same job description,” said AIM vice president of marketing Chris Geehern after the House voted.
“That was an important point for employers, the idea that things like performance, things like the demand for a particular set of skills all enter into what you get paid. This bill really recognizes that.”
The House version of the legislation notes that wages can differ for reasons including seniority, performance, travel requirements, and prior education.
The Senate unanimously passed its own version of equal pay legislation in January. Since then, the House Committee on Ways and Means has worked with business groups like AIM and Attorney General Maura Healey’s office to develop legislation palatable to all sides.
The Massachusetts High Tech Council says it prefers the House language but remains opposed to any legislative measures.
“The House bill is a significant improvement over the bill passed by the Senate. But the Council cannot support any version of legislation that would create a presumption that any pay differential between employees of different genders is the result of discriminatory action by an employer,” said Mass High Tech Council executive vice president Mark Gallagher.
The Alliance for Business Leadership was among the bill’s key advocates. President Jesse Mermell called the House’s vote “a major step forward for business, the economy, and fairness in the commonwealth.”