It’s a rare day in Harrisburg when Republicans champion labor protections – doubly so that Democrats in Philadelphia gripe about it. But here we are.
SB-241 passed with the unanimous support of Senate Republicans, as well as that of two Democrats. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Tom McGarrigle, purportedly addresses issues related to pay disparities between men and women, in part by making it illegal for employers to prohibit employees from discussing salaries or wages.
“It does what other states do, which is transparency of salaries. It helps make sure that people are honest brokers in the workplace.” said Drew Crompton, chief of staff to Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati. “It also forbids retaliation from employers against employees who file pay equity actions in court.”
Crompton said confidential salary information can prevent female employees from learning that they are earning less than male counterparts and the threat of legal repercussions from doing anything about it.
So, what’s not to like? Well, a lot – at least from the perspective of pols in Philadelphia.
The rub is that the legislation overrides an extremely contentious City Council measure barring employers from asking about a job applicant’s salary history. That local bill drew a harsh, 11th-hour response from some of the city's biggest employers, like Comcast, but Mayor Jim Kenney signed it anyway.
The Mayor’s Office says the Senate bill is designed to reverse that ordinance, pointing to “last-minute” language inserted into the bill that specifically preempts local salary disclosure laws.
“We strongly object to efforts by the Legislature to try to preempt a City ordinance that was approved unanimously by Council members,” said Kenney spokesperson Lauren Hitt. “For state lawmakers to cherry-pick and toss out City laws to which they may object undermines the right to home rule afforded to every municipality in the Commonwealth.”
Crompton says the bill is well-intentioned – the Republican caucus wanted to ensure that “equal pay” protections were extended to every worker in the commonwealth.
“These are protections that would be granted across the commonwealth. But nobody has these two protections now,” he said. “I understand that Philadelphia tried to make another play on this issue. But Philadelphia’s law doesn't address either of these two issues and we didn’t want this to be piecemeal...I’m not sure why as many Democrats opposed it as they did.”
Councilman Bill Greenlee, who sponsored the salary disclosure ban, said he didn’t take issue with the Senate bill's protections, but with the preemption clause
“I’m not going to criticize the whole Senate bill. But to say we have to take back something we already did, I just don't understand why that was necessary,” he said.
Indeed, some states simply do both – encouraging salary discussion while preventing employers from inquiring about past earnings.
Greenlee also said the unusually swift passage of the bill and lack of communication from Harrisburg was startling.
“I just found out about it today when someone called my legislative director and by that time the bill had already come out of committee. The bill was put in on Jan. 31 and was passed already,” he said.
Greenlee and other Democrats said that the bill had watered down previous pay equity legislation introduced by Sen. Anthony Williams. The current version includes labor unions and removes a provision making it easier for employees to file pay equity claims in certain circumstances. When Williams had tried to reinsert those provisions into McGarrigle’s bill, he was rebuffed.
The final Senate version will head to the House, although, with four weeks of budget hearings ahead, it will be some time before it lands on Gov. Wolf’s desk.