Ahead of Rhode Island House Labor Committee consideration of bills concerning Fair Pay and a $15 minimum wage Rhode Island Working Families held a press conference talking about the importance of the bills.
The two bills under consideration were:
The Fair Pay Act (H7427) would “make it illegal to pay workers less than their white, male colleagues without a clearly documented difference in skills. It clarifies ‘comparable work,’ making it clear that workers need to be paid equally for ‘substantially similar’ work even if every detail is not the same. It bans policies that prevent workers from discussing their pay with each other and removes past salary history as a consideration since discrimination is perpetuated over time by employers relying on past salaries, rather than skills and value, to determine current pay. It also requires the employer to disclose the salary range for the position.”
The minimum wage legislation (H7636) would “gradually increase the hourly minimum wage from $10.10 to $15 by 2023, and would also gradually increase the hourly minimum wage for employees receiving gratuities, currently $3.89, until it is equal to the non-tipped minimum wage by 2028. From 2024 onward, the minimum wage would be linked to the cost of living or the consumer price index.”
There is a strong coalition of groups working for these legislative initiatives, including the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence (RICADV), Woman’s Fund of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty, Economic Policy Institute, Rhode Island National Organization for Women (RI NOW) and many more.
Georgia Hollister-Isman of Rhode Island Working Families called the House Labor Committee meeting “extraordinary important.”
“These bills are important, and they are related,” said Hollister-Isman. “We need to do two things if our economy is going to fair, if it is going to really work for workers, if it’s going to really work for working women, for working families of color. We need to both raise the minimum wage so it is actually enough so at least a single person might be able to make ends meet… and we need to eliminate the discrimination and disparities that exist up and down the income ladder between men and women, between white folks and people of color and a bunch of other protected classes…”
Kathy McCormick from Sisters Overcoming Abusive Relationships (SOAR) spoke about the importance of a strong minimum wage and fair pay for women striking out and trying to establish a life in the wake of leaving a domestic violence situation. McCormick escaped such a situation with her son, and spent years struggling before achieving financial safety.
“All I ever wanted,” said McCormick, was “a chance to make it on my own and live my life. A minimum wage job would have never allowed me that opportunity. It is necessary to build up families and give them a fair and just wage. When our families can support themselves, our whole community is richer for it.”
Lisa Ranglin, president of the Rhode Island Black Business Association (RIBBA) said, “These two bills are critically important, not just to me but to my community as a whole…” Ranglin spoke about her life as an immigrant, living in poverty. In her career as a black woman, she has been routinely underpaid, while performing the same work as men.
“The generational impacts from sustained low wages contributes to the cycle of poverty,” said Cynthia Roberts, a commissioner from the Commission for Health Advocacy and Equity, “Children growing up in low-income families are more likely to suffer poor health, affecting their ability to do well in school, and eventually, to earn a decent wage.”
“Progress towards closing the wage gap iss not happening in our nation’s capital,” said Andrea Johnson, senior counsel for state policy at the National Women’s Law Center. “It’s happening here. States like Rhode Island are leading the national movement to close the wage gap. And with this equal pay bill and fight for $15 bill, Rhode Island is finally joining this movement.”
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