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Minnesota Fair Pay Repeal: Fiscal Responsibility in Sheep's Clothing

4 years ago
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I've decided I must be living in an alternate universe these days. There's more snow and ice than I've seen in pretty much my whole life, even after growing up in Central Pennsylvania and working for years in notoriously wintry Upstate New York. Parenting critics seem to agree that it's horrible to force feed hot sauce as a form of child discipline, but that it's acceptable parenting to deny water and bathroom breaks for less-than-perfect piano lessons. And now Minnesota, the first state ever to pass an equal pay for equal work law for public employees, may be on the verge of repealing it.

Is Johnny Depp around here somewhere playing The Mad Hatter? Because I feel like I'm living in a world where nothing makes sense anymore.

While many of us were watching and waiting with fingers crossed that the Paycheck Fairness Act would be passed by the 2010 lame-duck Congress, efforts were already under way in Minnesota to repeal the Local Government Pay Equity Act of 1984, that state's longstanding requirement that local governments pay employees equally who are in the same or similar jobs, regardless of gender. When LGPE was enacted, 90 percent of those who benefitted from the law were women. So if Minnesota was on the forefront of the equal pay issue, why is its legislature now trying to unwind that guarantee?

According to Minnesota NOW State President Shannon Drury, the impetus for the bill started with a Minnesota Chamber of Commerce report issued in December 2010. On the Chamber's website, the following passage is included in the "Legislative Priorities" section:

"The state's pay equity/comparable worth law should be repealed. Its purpose is outdated,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."

One of those "perceived errors" that Minnesota's Republican-controlled legislature wants to change is in how job descriptions and pay are linked. As Minnesota-based writer and law professor Jessica Pieklo points out, the current law prevents this scenario:

"A government employer used to be able to classify women as one job title at a lower pay scale than men, even if that woman was doing the same or similar work. One could be an 'administrative assistant' and the other a 'legislative assistant' -- pretty much the same job, but worlds apart in pay."

If the current Minnesota law was repealed, those administrative assistants and many others would again be susceptible to being paid less than their counterparts. The good news for the women of Minnesota is that even though its lawmakers have built up a lot of steam on this issue, it's unlikely to get far.

"Minnesota's new governor, Mark Dayton, is a vocal supporter of anti-discrimination laws," says NOW's Drury. "During his campaign, he expressed strong support for adding an Equal Rights Amendment to our Constitution. I feel certain he would veto any repeal of this common sense law."

So if you don't live in Minnesota and the repeal is likely to fail, why should we care? Pieklo believes that the GOP efforts in Minnesota are a precursor to a larger effort to roll back civil rights by chipping away at state law protections, while Drury contends it's an effort to keep discriminatory practices under the radar using the guise of fiscal responsibility.

In our current economic crisis in which women are increasingly the breadwinners, it almost doesn't matter why women get paid less. No matter what the reason is, you can't put as much food on the table or as much gas in the minivan with 76 cents as you can with a dollar. That's not pro-anybody no matter how you slice it.

You can follow Joanne Bamberger on Twitter and Facebook.

Filed Under: Republicans, Woman Up
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7 Comments

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Steve

I live in Minnesota. The state got what it voted for. Guess Minnesota got 'snookered'. Let's see if it happens again in 2012. If it does, then our brains have been 'frostbit'.

February 02 2011 at 11:43 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Chuck

The US Chamber of Commerce and Chamber of Commerce in many states, including my own, is doing all they can to thwart the rights of workers. It would seem their mission, driven by big business, is to reverse the last hundred years of worker rights and benefits. I'm no fan of unions, but to repeal a law which sought to remedy illegal employment practices is unthinkable. We can, once again, thank Republicans for these actions.

February 02 2011 at 9:23 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Chuck's comment
chuck

KEEP VOTING REPUBLICANS IN OFFICE...WHEN WILL MIDDLE CLASS aMERICA WAKE UP AND SEE REPUBLICANS HATE THE MIDDLE CLASS ,THEY JUST WANT US TO SERVE THEM AND FIGHT WARS THEY START...REMEMBER THIS IN 2012 VOTE OUT REPUBLICANS...

February 02 2011 at 11:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Vicki

The chamber of commerce is helping business get their payrolls reduced by paying women less than men. What's new? I used to think of the chamber as a benign group of small business leaders or owners. Now they represent BIG BUSINESS. Did the chamber also get worker's money out of retirement programs and into 401s? We watched them tank during Wall Street's take over of our money. So far the Republicans are on board with this. Less regulation and here we go with the Bush years again. Less folks with money and the rich getting lots richer.

February 01 2011 at 10:38 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Vicki's comment
chuck

LOOK AT HOW THE CHAMBER THREW MONEY INTO THE REPUBLICAN AND TEA PARTIERS ELECTIONS...WE CAN'T LET REPUBLICANS IN ANY LONGER...AND WE MUST MAKE SURE DEMS. GET THAT MESSAGE TOO...WE NO LONGER CAN LET BIG BUSINESS RUN THIS COUNTRY INTO BANKRUPTCY

February 02 2011 at 11:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rogurak

This is the first Republican controlled legislature for Minnesota in many years. I think a lot of Minnesotans are now having second thoughts about who they voted for. 2012 may tell a different story.

February 01 2011 at 10:35 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
Michael

The issue has much to do with caregiving role assignments during childrens' early years. Dads more often have been expected to suck it up and go to work; moms most often have been expected to suck it up and stay at home tending the kids. The drift is that employers have come to view dads as more reliable human resources than moms. Where this leads us is not clear.

February 01 2011 at 10:03 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

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