It's not the first time some Illinois lawmakers are pushing to end the so-called gender pay gap. The House of Representatives approved a measure Wednesday that could be a first step.
The plan would prohibit employers from requiring job candidates to disclose their past salary during the interview process. That way, someone who had been underpaid — typically women and especially women of color — might get offered a better wage.
State Rep. Anna Moeller, an Elgin Democrat and sponsor of the plan, said Illinois is far behind on pay equity. “What this bill will do is finally get to one of the systemic causes for the wage gap that has persisted for far too long in this state.”
Under the measure, wage disparities are OK if there are differences in skills or experience. But gender should not be a factor and salary negotiations can still take place, Moeller said. Critics say the approach is unfair to businesses—which is a similar argument made by former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who vetoed the plan twice.
Republican state Rep. Margo McDermed, from Mokena, said she supports the idea of equal pay but doesn’t think punishing businesses is the best approach. She said businesses are not getting a place at the negotiating table for many labor-related measures, like the minimum wage increase, recently signed by Democratic Gov. J-B Pritzker.
“When we are talking about penalties of $10,000 per violation, and not allowing employers to defend themselves, then we are going too far.”
Advocates say penalties are needed to discourage discriminatory pay practices.
McDermed previously supported Moeller’s plan but is now offering her own proposal that would give employers the opportunity to complete a self-evaluation on pay practices and correct wage differences based on gender.
But Moeller said including an affirmative defense clause would only weaken the state’s Equal Pay Act.
“We see that as anti-equal pay legislation. It’s not even neutral,” she said. “We want to make sure that companies are ending their discriminatory pay practices, not giving them a way to escape liability.”
Moeller said she’s confident Pritzker will consider signing the proposal.
Jordan Abudayyeh, spokeswoman for the governor, said Pritzker believes prohibiting employers from asking about previous salary is “an important first step in closing the pay gap and looks forward to reviewing the bill.”
During his first week in office, Pritzker signed an executive order banning state agencies from asking employers about their salary history.
The Senate will now consider the measure.