The Free Press, Mankato, MN


April 26, 2014

Women's equity bill marks progress

Why it matters: Several bills aim to level the economic playing field for women in the workplace

A bipartisan proposal moving through the Legislature will help right an economic playing field that has long been tilted against women.

The Women’s Economic Security Act makes moderate and sensible changes to laws that will help eliminate cultural and legal impediments for women in the workplace.

A host of nine bills combined into one package will not create special privileges for women over men as some critics charge, but will rather create opportunities for women to succeed in the work force without barriers often associated not with their abilities but with their gender.

At its simplest level, the proposal calls for employers to accommodate nursing mothers with space to nurse other than a restroom. Unpaid maternity leave would increase from six weeks to 12 weeks, on par with federal law. Women could use sick leave to take care of sick grandchildren.

Other provisions just seem to make sense. Women who quit a job after a sexual assault would be eligible for unemployment benefits.

The proposal also puts the muscle of the state’s contracting ability behind a serious effort to close the pay gap. Women in Minnesota make about 80 percent of what men make for similar jobs and experience. The proposal would require employers with 40 employees or more and who get state contracts worth at least $500,000 to certify they offer equal pay for equal jobs for women and men.

The Republican critics of the bill say it favors women over men and somehow makes women dependent on the government and not their own initiative. These arguments seem to counter the reality of some of the testimony on the bills. Young women struggling to get ahead told of instances of real barriers like issues with pregnancy or nursing.

Minnesota has one of the highest workforce participating rates for women in the country at about 65 percent, according to a report in the Star Tribune.

It seems the Women’s Economic Security Act would be a modest and sensible investment in that labor capital that is making Minnesota a vibrant place to work and do business for everyone, no matter what their gender.

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