Equal Pay Day
April 2nd is Equal Pay Day. Here in Vermont and across the U.S. we pause to ask whether women’s work and contributions are fully valued.
Today, women are central to caring for and supporting our families and growing our nation’s economy. But while times have changed, the rules and standards about work haven’t kept up. Women in Vermont are paid 84 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to an annual wage gap of nearly $8,000. Thousands of Vermont workers lack access to paid family leave needed to bond with a newborn baby or care for sick family members.
Over the last few years, the Vermont Legislature has made strides toward achieving family friendly workplaces. Policies that encourage breastfeeding mothers in the workplace, consideration of flexible work schedules, and the provision of paid sick days have all won passage.
Last year, employers were prohibited from asking a prospective employee about salary history before making a job offer. This practice has been linked to perpetuating low salaries for women. Employers can still ask about salary expectations and still post salary ranges. Last year’s legislative action also required that long acting reversible contraceptives remain available to low income women. There are social and economic benefits for women when they can plan whether or when to have children.
This year, the Legislature has renewed a multi-year effort to enact paid family leave. That effort is rooted in several important goals. We Vermonters want to attract young people to Vermont and increase our affordability. We want to support Vermont employers, many of whom struggle to recruit and retain workers. We want to help people who are on the financial edge of our benefit cliffs. We want more children to be born, to be healthy, and to be ready for school. We want to address several concerns related to aging: we have an aging workforce; we are living longer; and we have family members who are trying to age in their own homes, often needing the support of their adult children who are still in the workforce.
Paid family leave addresses these concerns in fundamental ways. It proposes to enhance Vermont’s existing Parental and Family Leave Act (and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act) by adding a financial component to an employee’s right to take leave under certain criteria. These can include the birth of a child and the immediate time after for bonding and/or dealing with any medical emergencies, or time needed to take care of a family member. Studies from other states that have implemented paid family leave have shown increased productivity and job loyalty from the employees who have used it.
Fourteen of the paid family leave’s legislative sponsors are graduates of Emerge Vermont, an organization that recruits, trains, and provides a network to Democratic women who want to run for office. While legislative support is significant, public input is vital to ensure that paid family leave achieves passage.
We can’t afford to stop now. Let’s close the pay gap, ensuring that Vermont women earn what Vermont men earn. Let’s pass the paid family leave bill needed to keep Vermont families and workplaces strong and healthy.
Helen Head represented Chittenden 7-3, South Burlington, in the Vermont House from 2003 – 2018. She serves on the board of Emerge Vermont.
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