The Minnesota Legislature on Wednesday adopted a wide-ranging and groundbreaking measure aimed at closing the gender pay gap and providing safer workplaces for women, which now heads to Gov. Mark Dayton for signature into law.
The Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA), a cluster of nine bills centered on female workers, cleared the Minnesota Senate for the second time with a 43-24 vote. A similar version swept through the Senate late last month with a bipartisan 51-14 vote. The House version passed 106-24. A conference committee was necessary because of minor differences between the two bills.
“This is victory for women in Minnesota and their families. For too long, in spite of laws we have had on the books for over 50 years, women have not been treated equally in the workplace.” said the bill’s chief Senate author, Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul. “The Women’s Economic Security Act will position Minnesota as a leader in the nation on issues like the gender pay gap and workplace protections for pregnant women and nursing mothers. We are going to see real progress and that’s tremendously exciting.”
The bill, which advocates say is the first of its kind to be adopted nationwide, is slated to have a vast impact on most Minnesota employers. Minnesota has one of the highest female workforce participation rates in the country, with 65 percent of all women employed.
The legislation requires most businesses with government contracts to certify that they are paying equal wages to workers regardless of gender and bans any punishment of employees who discuss their pay. Unpaid maternity leave will double to three months from six weeks, and sick leave could be used to care for ill grandchildren. It mandates that employers provide nursing mothers accommodations other than a bathroom to pump breast milk. Women who quit their jobs following a sexual assault would be eligible for unemployment.
WESA is estimated to cost $2.7 million ¬initially to administer. It would include grants to organizations that help women land high-wage nontraditional jobs or become entrepreneurs. Ongoing costs to monitor pay equity are projected at $900,000.