AAUW Members Lobby to Advance State Pay Equity Laws

December 19, 2018
Gov. Wolf shaking hand of an AAUW member in front of podium.

AAUW branches around the country have been advocating for equal pay laws, including in Pennsylvania where members met with Governor Tom Wolf.

Last spring, when Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed a law banning employers from inquiring about a job candidate’s salary history, a group of AAUW leaders from the state’s Bennington chapter felt a personal sense of victory — and with good reason.

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For more than a year, Julie Mackaman, Ruth Botzow and Gudrun Hutchins had been lobbying for passage of this landmark legislation. Each had traveled to the state capitol in Montpelier to talk to legislators about the bill. They’d met with leaders of other AAUW branches in Vermont, as well as various women’s groups, and enlisted their help. And last February, Mackaman testified before a committee of the Vermont General Assembly in support of the proposed law, delivering a passionate statement that the three women had diligently worked on together with assistance from AAUW staff.

In her testimony, Mackaman relayed the story of how, back in 2013, AAUW members had organized a panel discussion on pay equity at a local college, where participants shared personal experiences with gender-based pay discrimination. “For the women on the panel, their prior salaries served an anchor chaining them to past inequities,” she told the lawmakers. “They all accepted, perhaps with gratitude, a salary that chained them to lower pay than their male counterparts and to a future in which their retirement benefits would be determined by their inadequate, discriminatory salaries throughout their working lives.”

Those compelling remarks clearly had an impact. “A staffer from the Vermont Commission on Women later told us that our testimony was the decisive one that swung the committee into a unanimous affirmative vote before sending it to the full House,” said Mackaman, a freelance writer who is past president of AAUW’s Bennington branch and the current secretary of the state’s AAUW chapter. (Botzow, who has held many AAUW leadership positions over the year, is the current president of the Bennington branch. And Hutchins, a retired physicist, is the elected Administrator of AAUW Vermont.)

“A staffer from the Vermont Commission on Women later told us that our testimony was the decisive one that swung the committee into a unanimous affirmative vote before sending it to the full House … ”

– Julie Mackaman, AAUW Bennington, Vermont

The work of the Bennington, Vt., branch is just one example of the ways AAUW is training and activating members around the country to rally support for policies that could help narrow the gender wage gap. From Hawaii to New Jersey, AAUW members have been holding strategy sessions, staging press conferences, lobbying elected officials, and rallying supporters to lay the groundwork for policy change and the enactment of new laws. Some branches are using creative tactics to get attention: In Pennsylvania, AAUW members have demonstrated their expertise and know-how so consistently that the governor, first lady, and state legislators consistently call on them to speak at events and weigh in on policy proposals regarding the gender pay gap.

Map of the United States in shades of blue. Map asks, "What's the gender pay gap in your state? Find out at bit.ly/statepaygap"

AAUW members interested in working to close the gender pay gap in their area can check out AAUW’s state-specific policy guide roadmaps, read our latest research and explore AAUW’s advocacy tools. Contact AAUW staff to help take your advocacy to the next level.

In Illinois, AAUW members created a coloring book called “Equal” that included helpful research and facts and used it as a tool to lobby members of the state’s General Assembly before its Senate voted to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment last spring.

Advancing fair pay laws is central to AAUW’s pay equity campaign, along with working with employers to improve practices and helping train 10 million women in salary negotiation through our Work Smart initiative.

The efforts of AAUW members and the staff expertise deployed to support them are paying off: In 2018 alone, 40 states and Washington, D.C. considered bills on the issue, and numerous states and cities were successful in enacting laws, ordinances, and executive orders. “While we continue to push for uniform federal updates to our equal pay laws to protect workers nationwide, we’re encouraged to see that states and localities have been incubators of change, fighting for new protections for employees,” said Deborah Vagins, AAUW’s senior vice president of public policy and research.

Along with Vermont, five other states — California, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey and Washington — enacted new laws designed to close the gender pay gap in 2018. Most of these focus on banning the use of salary history in the hiring process. Other elements included closing loopholes in existing state equal pay laws, ensuring workers can discuss their salaries without the fear of retaliation, establishing strong remedies to make sure that employees who have been wronged recover their lost wages, and that employers who have violated the law are deterred from doing so again.

Aside from the enactment of new state laws, there are other signs of progress: Governors in New Jersey and Pennsylvania signed executive orders prohibiting state agencies from using salary history during the hiring process. And a number of cities — including Salt Lake City, Kansas City, Mo., and Louisville, Ky. — have passed ordinances regulating the use of salary history.

“Our members from around the country have been instrumental in making these changes happen,” says AAUW’s Vagins.

That is certainly the case in Vermont, where Mackaman, Botzow and Hutchins agree they’ve found great satisfaction from the work they’ve done. “My involvement with the Bennington Branch of AAUW is extremely gratifying,” Botzow sums up. “No matter which of the many AAUW tasks is at hand, the time spent on them is never without reward.”

By:   |   December 19, 2018