PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A coalition of women’s organizations, labor groups and Democratic state lawmakers unveiled a package of bills Wednesday aimed at improving the lives of women in the workplace.
The bills include a $15 minimum wage, an equal pay bill, and several sexual harassment bills, among others.
The equal pay legislation, sponsored by Bristol Democrat Susan Donovan, returned to the State House after it met a memorable end last year; a rewritten version passed the House but was unpalatable to many of its original supporters who denounced it on the floor during a debate. The Senate, which had passed the original version, declined to even consider the amended House bill.
“If we are really serious about economic equality for women and for people of color, if we are serious about supporting hardworking families, it’s far past the time we address the practices that perpetuate the wage gap,” Donovan said at an event about the package of bills.
The legislation would prohibit employers from paying an employee less than an employee of a different gender, race or other characteristic for “comparable work,” unless there’s a legitimate factor such as a seniority system, merit system, or level of experience.
It would also ban employers from asking a potential employee about their wage history, which has long been considered a factor in why women are paid less as they move from job to job.
Paula Borrelli, a former floor manager at the now-closed Newport Grand Casino, spoke at the event about her own experience. She said after working there for nine years, she found out her male counterpart made $4,000 more than her.
“I was shocked, I said how could this be?” Borrelli said. “We were both performing the exact same duties. …It sickened me to the point I fell apart at the seams.”
She now has a lawsuit pending against Twin River, which owns Newport Grand. A spokesperson for Twin River said they don’t comment on personnel matters or pending litigation.
The bill to increase the minimum wage to $15 would do it in increments until the year 2023, when it would be tied to the consumer price index. Proponents said 59% of minimum wage workers in Rhode Island are women.
Elizabeth Suever, a lobbyist for the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is concerned about the potential effect of a $15 minimum wage on businesses.
“What we’re really urging lawmakers to do is do a thoughtful study as to what the appropriate minimum wage should be for the state of Rhode Island,” Suever said. “One that’s good for both workers and businesses.”
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello indicated earlier this year he’d be open to raising the minimum wage again. A spokesperson said he doesn’t have a stance on a $15 wage yet.
A spokesperson for Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said he has supported raising the wage for the past three years and will consider it again this year, “in terms of competitiveness with neighboring states.”
The minimum wage in Rhode Island is currently $10.50 per hour. It’s $10.10 in Connecticut and $12 in Massachusetts.