BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Senators will consider whether to prohibit private businesses in Louisiana from paying unequal wages to employees of different genders for the same job, after a Senate committee supported an equal-pay proposal Wednesday.
The measure by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, received the backing of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee. It would require employers in the private and public sector to pay employees who are doing the same work equally.
Peterson said gender-pay inequity hurts the morale and welfare of Louisianians.
"It is an issue of fundamental fairness," she said.
She said a woman in Louisiana earns about 67 cents for every $1 a man earns. Supporters said the gap is even bigger for minority women. Peterson asked the all-male committee to think of their wives, daughters and moms when considering that gap.
"Why is that fair?" she asked.
Supporters said Louisiana has had the second-largest gender pay gap in the country for four years.
Yvonne Mitchell-Grubb, with the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, said unequal pay not only hurts women, but their families as well since many women are breadwinners.
Currently, employers cannot intentionally discriminate based on sex. Julie Schwam Harris, with Legislative Agenda for Women, said employers can unintentionally discriminate for a number of reasons, but for women it is often caused by women being stereotyped as second earners rather than breadwinners.
Louisiana women working for state agencies are protected against unintentional discrimination under the Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act that was passed last year.
After passing Peterson's bill, the committee also backed a measure by Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, that would expand the act to cover local government workers.
Both bills now move to the Senate floor for consideration.
Harris said the new bill prohibiting private businesses in Louisiana from paying unequal wages would require employers to examine their pay scale to make sure it is based on legitimate business reasons, such as merit or seniority, and not gender.
Opponents of the proposal included business organizations, but they did not testify before the committee.
After the hearing, Kristi Williams, with the Louisiana Association for Business and Industry, said LABI opposed the measure because employees already are protected from pay discrimination.
"We believe there's already adequate protection in state and federal law," she said.
Senate Bills 334 and 443 can be found at www.legis.la.gov