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County Executive Steve Bellone signs bill that stops pay history inquiries

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, shown in West

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, shown in West Sayville on Nov. 16, signed legislation Friday designed to reduce pay inequities for women and minorities, making Suffolk the first municipality on Long Island to adopt legislation of this type. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signed legislation Friday designed to reduce pay inequities for women and minorities by prohibiting employers from requesting the salary and benefit history of job applicants.

The measure, known as the RISE ACT — Restricting Information on Salaries and Earnings — unanimously passed theCounty Legislature last week by a vote of 17-0. The measure will go into effect June 30.

"Equal pay for equal work is a basic right," Bellone said at a bill signing ceremony Friday in Hauppauge. "It is what is decent and fair. But despite protections in place, women and people of color continue to be systematically underpaid compared to their male counterparts."

Suffolk will be the ninth municipality in the United States, the fourth in New York and the first on Long Island to adopt legislation of this type.

Women in Suffolk County earn 78.1 percent of what their male counterparts make, compared with an 86.8 percent statewide average, according to the state Department of Labor. Statewide, Bellone said, black women make 64.4 percent of their male counterparts' wages while Hispanic women are even lower at 55.3 percent.

"Women earn less than men for doing the same job, particularly women of color," said state Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon, who co-chaired a study last year on pay equity. "Women at the upper end of the pay scale are crashing into the glass ceiling while women at the lower end are struggling to get off the sticky floor."

In January 2017, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed an executive order prohibiting state agencies from making pre-employment offer inquiries about a candidate's current or prior salary. And last April Cuomo proposed legislation, which has yet to be passed, prohibiting all employers — public and private — from asking prospective employees about their salary history and compensation.

Suffolk's legislation will make it illegal for any public or private employer with four or more employees to ask an applicant about their pay, benefits or commission history during the hiring process or for them to seek that data elsewhere. Salary negotiations, officials said, would be limited to an applicant’s qualifications, experience and job responsibilities.

"For decades there has been a persistent, debilitating gap in the salaries that have been paid to women and men who are doing with equal work with equal background," said Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac). "The disparity is well known and presents an obstacle to the success of women throughout their careers."

While Suffolk's legislation includes no penalty provisions, it will become part of the county’s human rights law, which levies fines and penalties, along with other remedies, such as mandated training and job posting requirements, after an investigation and hearing.

The measure would not apply to those seeking an internal transfer or promotion with their current employer or jobs for which pay is set in a collective bargaining agreement.

Last April, a federal judge in Philadelphia struck down parts of a similar "salary history" ban, arguing it violated the First Amendment's Free Speech clause. That ruling is being appealed.

Bellone said he's confident the county's legislation can withstand a court challenge. "We firmly believe that this is legal and constitutional," Bellone said. "This is a perfectly legal and common-sense approach to achieving pay equity."

The county's Department of Economic Development and Planning estimates that closing the gender wage gap in Suffolk would result in a net spending increase of approximately $664 million annually, increasing Suffolk's total economic output by an estimated $1.14 billion.


 

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