Wage disclosure promotes good business through better pay and better workers

This piece was written by our treasurer, Beth Anderson, and published on the Savage Pacer website on October 19, 2015.

Employers and employees alike are squeamish when discussing wages and how they are determined.

Traditionally, employers have discouraged employees from comparing salaries or discussing their wages. In some cases it has even been a condition of employment. In Minnesota, that is now illegal. And I argue that wage discussions amongst employees should be encouraged to the benefit of employers and employees alike.

The Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) was enacted in Minnesota on Mother’s Day 2014. The law covers many issues involving women’s rights in the workplace and is designed to address the causes of the gender pay gap and to protect the rights of pregnant employees. The Minnesota Legislative Office on the Economic Status of Women just issued a report on WESA implementation over the last year and I thought it was a good time to discuss one of its provisions: wage disclosure.

WESA makes it illegal to prohibit employees from discussing wages or to retaliate against employees who discuss their wages or another employee’s wages. This is a key provision for women workers, or for any workers that have faced wage discrimination. How do you know if you are being paid in accordance with your peers if you can’t discuss it with them? We know in general from salary surveys and hiring statistics what types of salaries can be expected in broad job categories, but most of us don’t know how our personal salary compares to that of a similarly employed co-worker.

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry is tasked with enforcing the wage disclosure protection portion of WESA. Between July 2014 and September 2015, there have been only three worker’s complaints regarding the wage disclosure provision of the law. This may be because employees are not experiencing problems with discussing salaries, but I think it is more likely that the traditional reticence we have for discussing our salaries and wages has kept us from exercising this right.

After all, if you found out you were making less than a similarly qualified co-worker, it might make you feel bad about your job, perhaps decrease your job satisfaction. And if you found you were making more than your co-worker, you might not want to discuss it with them if it only served to make them feel bad about themselves or their job. Why risk the discomfort?

One obvious reason to risk it is economic. If you are underpaid, you can use the information to negotiate for a fair wage. For example, it has been shown that even small differences in starting salaries can multiply over time and have a large effect on your lifetime earnings. Since most future pay raises are based on current salaries, if you start with a smaller salary, it can affect not only your current wealth, but your future earning potential. A $5,000 difference in starting salary can grow to a $12,000 difference in salary 30 years down the road. And that’s an extra $12,000 each year!

Similarly, if you find your salary is less than your co-workers mid-career, you can use that information to argue for a raise, or correction, to bring your wages in line with the going rate. Some of this can be done based on national or local wage statistics, but disparities within a company may not be picked up by comparison with national averages or ranges, and the differences can be significant. Wage disclosure discussions will help make salaries fair an d lessen the inequalities.

A second reason for having this wage discussion is to make the market more efficient. If a worker is not being paid according to similarly qualified co-workers, it may be because they are underperforming. Having the wage discussion could prompt better performance on the part of the worker or it could cause the employee to seek employment that is more suited to their skills. Both the employer and the employee benefit from having high-performing, fairly-compensated employees. The market should self-correct, matching the right employees to the right tasks.

In order for this to work, an employer has to determine what factors influence salaries in their company and clearly communicate that to the employees. Are wages and salaries based on customer satisfaction, hours worked, quality of product produced, sales figures, seniority, specialized skills or education, commitment to the company, etc.? What matters when setting salaries and what doesn’t matter? If your company hasn’t clearly stated this, it might be a good time to ask.

As a small business owner myself, I know the challenges involved in applying a consistent standard to employee wages and clearly communicating the criteria. Jobs evolve, employees gain experience and education, and the company’s performance varies. Every year, I reflect on the salaries I am paying my employees and how they compare to each other and to national standards. I take into consideration the performance of the individual, the performance of the company as a whole, the education and training the employee brings to the position, and the complexity of what is being asked of the employee. I use the annual salary review to make changes where necessary to eliminate arbitrary or unconscious bias that may have crept into the compensation packages over the years. I envision the discussion that I would have with that employee if confronted with questions regarding their pay in comparison with others in the company. And I walk away with a new appreciation for the bargain we all make to provide a fair wage for a job well done.

Whether you are an employer or an employee or both, the wage disclosure discussion will result in better pay and better workers. If you have questions about the wage disclosure protection provision of WESA, you can contact the Labor Standards unit of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry at 651-284-5070.

Paycheck to Paycheck and Economic Justice

Economic justice is one of Minnesota NOW’s core issues, a term that encompasses a number of concerns including education, livable wages, job discrimination, pay equity, housing, childcare and more.

On Tuesday, October 21st, Minnesota NOW’s Economic Justice Committee hosted a screening and discussion of the film Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert. The film follows Katrina Gilbert, a mother of three who experiences numerous setbacks in her struggle to secure economic stability for herself and her children.

Katrina works as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) where she makes $9.49 an hour. Similar to many single mothers living in poverty, she is forced to make hard choices about things like which bills to pay and what healthcare services to forego so that she has enough money left to provide the necessities for her family. She wants a better life for her kids, and decides to go back to school to help her achieve that goal, only to have her financial aid application rejected.

Katrina is one of millions of single mothers living in poverty in the United States. Stories like hers are not uncommon, even here in Minnesota. Below is a selection of statistics from the economics section of the Status of Minnesota Women and Girls report (2014):

  • Women make up the majority (60%) of low-wage workers in Minnesota, many of whom do not have access to paid sick days.
  • Sixty-seven percent (67%) of female-headed households in rental housing and 49% of those who own their home are paying costs that exceed the recommended 30% of their income.
  • Minnesota has the third highest cost in the United States for quality childcare, making it difficult for working mothers and families to balance the responsibilities of work and family.
  • There are more than twice as many Minnesota elder women living in poverty than men (38,463 compared to 16,915).

These statistics, and the full report linked above, show how far we have left to go in the fight for economic justice.

Legislation like the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA), signed into law during the last legislative session, is a good start. Minnesota NOW will continue to fight for economic justice, and we’d love for you to join us.

  1. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and share with your friends.
  2. Join our Action Committee. We’re got big plans for 2015, and we need a team of fired up advocates to help us out!
  3. Make a donation. We are a volunteer run organization, and make the most of every dollar.

To learn more about Minnesota NOW and to become a member go to our website.

Equality & Safety: What the ERA Means to Me

As a self identified feminist, and an outspoken one at that, I often find myself in conversations concerning the validity of ‘modern feminism’. Many people think that women are ‘basically equal’ to men now, so there’s no need for feminism. That is absolutely not the case. Not only are women economically unequal to men in this country, but our rights aren’t even solidified in the constitution. This means that our rights can essentially be repealed by court decisions and in Congress if they so choose. So I thought in light of the upcoming Women’s Equality Day, I would like to take a minute and write about what constitutional protection through the ERA means to me and why I find it important.

First off, the ERA or Equal Rights Amendment reads as follows:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

When I first heard about the ERA, I assumed it was going to be a long and drawn out packet of information. As you can see, it is not. The fact that the ERA is one sentence is symbolic for me. We’ve been trying to get this passed since 1923. One sentence added to the constitution would give all women equal constitutional rights, and 90 years later we’re still struggling to make it happen.

Women’s equality in this country still has a long way to go. Ask any woman who regularly goes out in public and I can guarantee you she’ll have at least one ‘street harassment’ story to tell you. It is unsafe for women to go for a run or jog alone at night, to walk to their car, or even to walk home after a night out because of the underlying threat of violence. And if that violence does occur, it is often the woman and not the attacker who is blamed because of what they were wearing, what they were drinking, or a litany of other offenses that you ‘should have known better’ than to do.

On top of that, women still make anywhere from 75-85 cents on the dollar (average is about 77 cents) to what men make in comparable roles with comparable experience. This gap is even more severe for women of color, who average 55-64 cents for each dollar. That’s economic inequality, and despite legislation that expressly forbids that kind of discrimination, it still happens. Passing the ERA will give teeth to the laws we already have in place, and will formally recognize the rights of women as equal to the rights of men.

These are just a few examples of why the ERA is important to me. Can you think of other reasons why you think it’s important? Leave them in the comments or Tweet them to us @Minnesota_NOW!

By the way, if you want to join us in a discussion about the ERA, join us on August 26th at Urban Growler! See the details here.

Interview – Representative Andrea Kieffer

By: Colette Hayward

Andrea Kieffer is a Minnesota Politician and is currently serving in the House of Representatives. She is a member of the Republican Party and represents District 53B, including cities in Washington County. A University of Minnesota Alum, she is seen as an active figure in her community with many people having positive things to say about her. Representative Kieffer was also one of only four Republican House Representatives who voted to legalize same-sex marriage back in May of 2013.

In March of 2014 I attended my first legislative hearing; part of my internship involves public policy and I was excited to attend and see what all a hearing entailed. I researched a little bit of information about what I should expect and later that week I sat in on the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) committee hearing. If I’m being totally honest I wasn’t 100% sure what was going on the entire time, but it was interesting to listen to the brave souls who attended so they could share their stories in favor of the bill. When I was conducting my research, I read an article about a comment from Representative Andrea Kieffer regarding women that ended up becoming national news. Although I don’t think she intended for the comment to be taken so negatively many people did take it that way and that is when I decided I wanted a chance to talk with her.

Now, for the record, I will say that the purpose of this blog is not to shame her but rather to address the comment that was made and clarify her thoughts. Representative Kieffer was quick to respond to my emails inquiring about an interview and followed up with a phone call. Representative Kieffer made the point that there are two sides to every story, and as with almost everything in life, this is a thought to live by. If you haven’t heard exactly what she said the quote is, “We heard several bills last week about women’s issues and I kept thinking to myself, these bills are putting us back in time. We are losing the respect that we so dearly want in the workplace by bringing up all these special bills for women and almost making us look like whiners”. Now I can personally agree as a women’s studies major that a statement like this is insulting to women and coming from a woman in a power position it is hard – if not impossible – to swallow. When I questioned Representative Kieffer about this comment she said she, “still firmly believes it puts women back in the workforce,” but that it was early in the morning and she shouldn’t have used the word whiners.

We discussed a few other legislative topics and there were several aspects of the WESA bill that Representative Kieffer agreed with. She also discussed the minimum wage increase with me and made some interesting points. Regarding the WESA bill, she said that we need to remember the difference between equal pay and comparable pay, and what WESA asked for is comparable pay. I understand that equity pay is already common law, but I don’t think men and women are paid equally. She said the numbers are exaggerated when people say the pay gap is around 15%-20%, and that the reality is actually closer to 5%-6%. Whether the numbers are exaggerated or not a 5% pay gap is still one worth fighting for and I think that it is still an area that should be prioritized by politicians. Representative Kieffer sent me the clip of the hearing so I could hear for myself what she and others had said. I did listen to it and it helped solidify what I would put in my blog.

The moral of this interview is that we need to remember to listen to both sides of the story. Whether or not you still feel the same way after hearing both sides is irrelevant, but at least you are informed. I appreciate Representative Andrea Kieffer taking time out of her day to have an interview with me, and although we may not see everything in the same way, I can at least say I know both sides of the story. I hope this was beneficial for others as well and with WESA being signed into law I hope this blog post will help you better understand how discussions regarding the bill were framed.

OUTRAGEOUS! The Minnesota Legislature Attempts to Restrict Women’s Fundamental Rights

by Gordy Gustafson, Minnesota NOW Political Action Committee Chair


Minnesota NOW is outraged that in the 2011 session the Minnesota legislature, with bipartisan support, passed bills restricting women’s fundamental rights.

The two bills dealing with women’s access to abortion services are un-Minnesotan.  The first bill, which effectively bans abortion after the 20th week from fertilization, would have stopped abortions before viability in direct violation of women’s rights under Roe v Wade.  Additionally, this bill would have made it a felony for doctors to perform abortions after the 20th week, forcing some women to have dangerous illegal abortions.  Minnesota cannot return to the days of back-alley butchers!

The second abortion bill, which limits state funding for abortion services for women with limited economic means with only rare exceptions, sets up an un-Minnesotan class system that says wealthy women have the right to healthcare and the right to control their bodies, but poor women do not.  In Minnesota, we support – not punish – the economically disadvantaged!

The amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution that would limit marriage to one man and one woman is out of line with Minnesota’s priorities. Far from being pro-family, this amendment will harm LGBT families and their children who are denied the legal protections of civil marriage.  In these days of heightened awareness of the consequences of bullying, we must be aware of the message this sends to Minnesota’s LGBT youth.  Discrimination should never be part of the Minnesota Constitution!

The bill that would have required Minnesotans to obtain a government issued photo ID before voting would have suppressed the vote in Minnesota – specifically for the elderly, the economically disadvantaged, the student population, and those who are highly mobile.  Just like property requirements, poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and other barriers to voting were eliminated long ago, this type of legislation should be relegated to the ash heap of history.  In Minnesota, we have a proud tradition of protecting the right to vote and high voter participation.  Minnesota NOW opposes any law that puts the right to vote in jeopardy.

Minnesota NOW thanks our state legislators who stood up for women’s right to have access to safe, legal abortions; the right to civil marriage; and the right to vote —and vows to fight the re-election of every legislator who voted against the human rights of Minnesotans.

With profound gratitude, Minnesota NOW thanks Governor Mark Dayton for doing all that he can to protect women’s fundamental rights.  Thank you, Governor Dayton, for vetoing the bills restricting women’s right to obtain safe, legal abortions; for symbolically vetoing the proposed Minnesota Constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples; and for vetoing the bill that would have suppressed voter participation in the State of Minnesota.


Our friends need to hear from us, too!

If you’re like us, you’re subscribed to 7823863 different action alerts, all of which fill up your inbox with outraged calls to DEMAND one vote or another from legislators who need to be HELD ACCOUNTABLE for all kinds of HORRIBLE THINGS…..and you call and you e-mail and you vent accordingly.  But  in all our righteous fury, we tend to forget that our allies sometimes like to hear from us, too.  In fact, now is a critical time to give our support, encouragement, and to the Minnesota legislators who are speaking up so eloquently for equality.  They need to hear that Minnesota NOW members are watching, listening, and fighting right beside them in spirit.

Here’s a sampling of what’s being said at the Capitol, courtesy of The Uptake:

Sen. Ron Latz, speaking out against cutting Medicaid funding for women seeking abortions:

Sen. Barb Goodwin, wondering why the state is sticking its nose into other people’s private lives:

Sen. Linda Berglin, who points out that the poorest Minnesotans can’t afford the deductibles & copays proposed in new health care bills:

And the gone-viral superstar,  Sen. Steve Simon, who asked “how many gays does God have to make before we accept that he wants them around?”

It’s time to send words of gratitude to these four and the many, many others at the capitol who are fighting for justice for ALL Minnesotans at the capitol, bot just a lucky few.  You can search for these folks’ contact information via this link, where you can search by legislators’ names or by their districts: http://www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/geninfo.aspx.

YOUR letter to the editor/legislature about pay equity!

Activists at Minnesota NOW are busy crafting our response to the recent announcement that the Minnesota legislature plans to repeal the Local Government Pay Equity Act.  We’re busy talking to the media here at home (Minnesota Independent) and across the country (Politics Daily) but we need YOUR help now!  Below is a sample letter to send either to the editor of your local newspaper and/or to your representatives in the legislature.  Please add your own comments about what pay equity means to you and your sisters, daughters, mothers and friends.

Click here to find out your legislator’s contact information: http://www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/districtfinder.aspx. If you receive a response or are printed, LET US KNOW!

Dear Representative/Senator/Newspaper Editor:

I am writing to let you know of my strong opposition to the provision in HF 7/SF 159, the proposal to abolish local government mandates, that would repeal the Local Government Pay Equity Act (LGPEA). This common sense legislation, on the books since 1984, is still necessary to ensure that Minnesota women are paid fairly for their work.

I have heard that the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce feels this law is “archaic,” but research by the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, in partnership with the University of Minnesota’s Center on Women & Public Policy, found that women in our state are still earning less than their male counterparts. Their 2010 report showed that white women earn only 76 cents for every dollar earned by a white male, while Native American, African American, and Hispanic American women earn far less–69, 61, and 51 cents for every dollar earned by a white Minnesota man.

(Source:  http://www.wfmn.org/press/WFM_StatusOfWomenGirlsMN_17June10.pdf)

Clearly, pay discrimination is not a thing of the past! The LGPEA needs to remain a part of Minnesota law to ensure that Minnesota women receive fair compensation.

Women are now the majority of the American workforce, due in part to the recession’s disproportionate toll on men.  In simpler terms, women’s paychecks are crucial to families’ survival.  Repealing this law takes money out of women’s wallets, which in turn hurts Minnesota families. I urge you to speak out against this legislation and to vote against any change to LGPEA.


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