The Iowa Senate has approved a bill which would strengthen Iowa’s wage discrimination laws, making it easier for women to charge they’ve been underpaid on the job. The bill passed on a party-line vote, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.
Senator Pat Ward of West Des Moines was one of three Republican women to vote against the bill. "Lawsuits just filed willy nilly could have a tremendous effect on the businesses that operate in your small towns," Ward said. "Any Main Street busiess with four or more employees could be affected."
Senator Kim Reynolds, a Republican from Osceola, also worried about "frivolous lawsuits" from women using the new law to charge they’re underpaid, when current law already allows them to charge they’re being discriminated against on the job. "And it seems to me that we already have existing laws on the books that would enable people to move forward with this," Reynolds said. "And that, really, disparity in pay is an open door to taking this further than we need to."
And Senator Nancy Boettger, a Republican from Harlan, worried about another section of the bill that Boettger says would let minorities and handicapped people sue if they believe they’re underpaid. "We have a lot of good citizens in the state of Iowa that…hire some of our handicapped folks," Boettger says. "…I think the unintended consequence of this bill will be that not as many of our handicapped folks will be able to get jobs."
Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, ridiculed the Republicans. "We’ve heard arguments that this is a poor economy and therefore we should be allowed to discriminate against women based upon the fact that we’re in a national recession," McCoy said. "…Never should we use the economy as a right to discriminate against somebody. Nor should we use the fact that somebody has a physical or mental disability as a right to discriminate against someone." McCoy cited the recent case of mentally retarded men in Atalissa who had most of their wages paid to a Texas firm that was housing them in a building that was declared a fire hazard.
Senator Jack Hatch, a Democrat from Des Moines, said the work of all should be valued, including the work of women. "To vote against this bill is an acknowledgement of three things. One — you haven’t been listening. Two — you don’t understand the issue and…sadly, you’re afraid," Hatch said. "You’re afraid of the consequences of what this would do for woman, actually give them a fair shot at all jobs in this state."
Senator Keith Kreiman, a Democrat from Bloomfield, argued the bill makes an important statement: equal pay for equal work. "Maybe I’m a little touchy because I’m the only male in my household, but I do get a little concerned when I do hear some of the excuses for maybe not supporting this bill," Kreiman said.
Click on the audio link below to listen to all of the debate on the bill.
The legislation would outlaw wage discrimination based on age, race, sexual orientation, national origin and religion as well as gender and would apply to businesses with four or more employees. It must clear the Iowa House and be signed by the governor before it would become law. According to the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women, Iowa ranks 37th among the 50 states when it comes to pay equity for women.