Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announces a proposal on Tuesday...

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announces a proposal on Tuesday designed to improve pay and prevent hiring discrimination against women and people of color.   Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone proposed a law on Tuesday designed to reduce pay inequities for women, minorities and those long out of work by barring employers from seeking or using job applicant’s salary and benefit history in hiring.

Bellone, flanked by two dozen workplace and human right advocates as well as Democratic lawmakers,  dubbed the measure the RISE Act. RISE stands for Restricting Information on Salaries and Earnings.

“Today I’m proud … to announce a significant step toward closing the pay gap in Suffolk County [where] women and people of color continue to be systematically underpaid,” Bellone said. “Now your salary history in Suffolk County will not stop you from rising.”

He noted Suffolk women make 78 percent of what men earn. Statewide, Bellone said, black women make only 64 percent of their male counterparts while Hispanic women are even lower at 55 percent.

“We have a long way to go to achieve pay equity, which is why in Suffolk County, we must push forward and fight to ensure every man and woman is fairly compensated,” he said.

The proposal, if adopted, would 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 seek the data elsewhere.

Salary negotiations would be limited to an applicant’s qualifications, experience and job responsibilities, Bellone said, and therefore would “level the playing field" in setting pay.

The proposal includes no penalty provisions but Bellone aides said the bill would become part of the county’s human rights law, which levies fines and damages penalties as well as other remedies like mandated training and job posting requirements after an investigation and hearing. The proposal 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.

Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), the GOP caucus leader, said his seven-members have yet to review the proposal, but added that as the owner of a small business, “I’m always concerned when government is proposing another regulation on business practices.”

Bellone aides said the proposal is similar to legislation already approved by the New York City Council as well as Albany and Westchester counties. Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), a backer, said she hopes Suffolk’s passage of the law will help spur pending statewide legislation.    

Matthew Cohen, the Long Island Association’s government affairs vice president, called the initiative “an interesting proposal” but he said officials with the organization have not seen the legislation. While Bellone invited members of the business group to his news conference, none attended. Cohen said his group’s 70-member board of directors has to review the proposal before taking a stand. The board meets Sept. 13.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) predicted the measure would benefit hundreds of thousands of county residents, especially aging workers currently “affected all the way to retirement” by wage inequities.

“But, he added, “our work will not be over until there is no disparity.”

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