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Minnesota Republicans propose repeal of fair pay laws for women

Minnesota Republicans have introduced legislation that would repeal the 1984 Local Government Pay Equity Act (LGPEA), which directs local governments to ensure that women are paid the same as men. While local governments say reporting requirements are costly, equal rights groups say the law needs to stay intact in order to ensure fair pay, especially for women of color.

HF7/SF159 would repeal a laundry list of mandates on local governments — including regulations on part-time police officers, agricultural programs for low-income farmers and grants for libraries — but buried in the bill is a full repeal of the LGPEA.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is pushing the repeal. In a December report on public employee compensation, the group wrote, “State pay equity/comparable worth law should be repealed. Its purpose is outdated, and requiring governments to correct perceived ‘errors’ in labor markets based on bureaucratic and subjective assessments of the relative value of government jobs is an unnecessary and costly mandate.”

Shannon Drury, president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Organization for Women, said the group “strongly opposes” a repeal of the law.

“Why the legislature would repeal this measure in such a difficult economic climate is beyond me,” said Drury. “Women are now the majority of the American workforce, due in part to the recession’s disproportionate toll on men.”

She added, “In simpler terms, women’s paychecks are crucial to families’ survival. This bill would remove protections that ensure women’s full compensation under the law.”

Several recent studies have pointed to continued discrepancies in pay for women in Minnesota.

In June, the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota found that, overall, women still earn less than men in the state. White women earned 76 cents for every dollar that men earn, and the numbers were much worse for women of color: Native American women earned 69 cents to the dollar, African American women 61 cents and Hispanic women earned 51 cents to the dollar.

Those numbers were for all workers in the state, not just the public sector.

The Office of Minnesota Management and Budget looked at 2010 levels of pay for women in a report released in early January. In a report to the Minnesota Legislature, the MMB found that there was almost a 10 percent inequity in the wages that women were paid in public sector jobs.

“Before the inequities were corrected, the average pay for females in the examples was $16.27 per hour,” the report noted. “After adjustments were made, the average pay for females was $17.86 per hour.

The MMB directs municipalities, school districts, counties and other public employers to correct pay differences.

“Prior to the adjustments, females were paid 83% of what males were paid, but after the adjustments, the wage gap narrowed and females were paid 91% of what males were paid,” the report said.

Minnesota was the first state to pass pay equity laws: In 1982, it passed the State Government Pay Equity Act, which covered state employees, and in 1984 the LGPEA was passed to cover all public employees in the state.

The law doesn’t say that cities can’t give performance raises or pay more to workers who have seniority, but over broad classes of employees there cannot be substantial pay differences between jobs held by men and jobs held by women. And each public institution needs to track the pay of its employees and report to the state every three years.

If a public entity fails to file a report or to take corrective action if pay inequities occur, it could lose a portion of its government aid.

Drury said that as long as inequities exist, there is a need for the law.

“Pay equity laws won’t be archaic until pay discrimination ends,” Drury said, noting the Minnesota Chamber’s assertion that the law is outdated. “As long as discrimination exists, these measures will remain necessary to ensure compliance. Repealing this law takes money out of women’s wallets. It’s that simple.”

In the Senate, the bill was introduced by Republican Sens. John Carlson of Bemidji, Mike Parry of Waseca, Al DeKruif of Madison Lake, Gretchen Hoffman of Vergas, and Paul Gazelka of Brainerd.

In the House, it was introduced by Republican Reps. Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa, Roger Crawford of Mora, King Banaian of St. Cloud, Kurt Daudt of Crown, Bud Nornes of Fergus Falls, Kelby Woodard of Belle Plaine, Duane Quam of Byron, Bob Barrett of Shafer, Joe McDonald of Delano, Peggy Scott of Andover, Bruce Anderson of Buffalo, Glenn Gruenhagen of Glencoe, David Hancock of Bemidji, Mark Murdock of Ottertail, Keith Downey of Edina, Tim Kelly of Red Wing and Doug Wardlow of Eagan.

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