‘More protections and flexibility’ for women

State Rep. Peter Fischer
District 43A

On Wednesday, April 9 I joined a bipartisan group of state lawmakers to pass the Women’s Economic Security Act by a vote of 106-24, legislation that will help close the gender pay gap so women can earn equal pay for equal work, provide more protections and flexibility for pregnant mothers in the workplace and create more opportunities for women to enter high-wage, high-demand professions.

As a husband and father of two bright, talented daughters, voting for this bill was a no-brainer. Women deserve to be treated with fairness and respect. I think the overwhelming majority of Minnesotans will be pleased that we’re taking steps to ensure women earn equal pay for equal work.

Debra Fitzpatrick, Director of the Center on Women and Public Policy at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, has pointed out the gender pay gap has been stalled at 20 percent for the past decade, robbing each Minnesota woman and her family of almost $500,000 on average over her career.

Fitzpatrick said change could only be made through “a comprehensive, research-based approach like the Women’s Economic Security Act.”

Other components of the Act would:

Allow mothers to stay in the workforce by expanding family leave and providing reasonable accommodations for pregnant and nursing employees.

HF 2371: Expands unpaid leave under the Minnesota Parental Leave Act from 6 to 12 weeks and allows use of leave under the Parental Leave Act for pregnancy-related needs. It also requires employers with more than 21 employees to provide reasonable minor accommodations (seating, limits to heavy lifting) for pregnant workers.

HF 2259 provides enforcement of workplace protections for nursing mothers to express breast milk during unpaid break times.

The act also expands access to high-quality, affordable childcare by removing the $5,000 cap on early learning scholarships.

Two further parts of the Act help to decrease the gender pay gap through the participation of women in high-wage, high-demand nontraditional work.

HF 2291 expands support for employers; workforce organizations; and others to recruit, prepare, place and retain women in nontraditional occupations and apprenticeships, especially low income and older women.

HF 2243 supports the development of high-economic-impact women-owned businesses in nontraditional industries.

Further bills boost enforcement of equal pay laws for state contractors and clear the way for employees to discuss pay inequities.

HF 2373 requires businesses with more than 50 employees seeking state contracts over $500,000 to ensure compliance with existing equal pay laws. Businesses must state that average compensation for female employees is not consistently below average compensation for male employees within similar major job categories.

HF 2274 allows employees to voluntarily discuss their compensation without fear of retaliation from their employers.

As women have traditionally taken on caregiver roles for their children or other relatives, they often pay the price of “the motherhood penalty.”

To address this, HF 2300: Requires equal employment treatment regardless of “family caregiver status” or “familial status.”

And  HF 2461 allows grandparents to use existing earned sick leave to care for an ill or injured grandchild.

Another portion of the Act addresses the economic consequences of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault.

HF 2366 expands unemployment insurance eligibility currently available to victims of domestic violence to include victims of stalking and sexual assault.

HF 2461 allows employees to use existing earned sick leave to deal with the repercussions of sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking.

Finally, the Act enhances womens’ retirement security by considering a state retirement savings plan for those without an employer-provided option._ HF 2419 requires a report from Minnesota Management and Budget on the potential for a state-administered plan for workers without access to workplace retirement savings plans; along with other alternative private sector options.

Constituents with questions, comments, or other feedback are encouraged to contact me by phone at (651) 296-5363, by email at rep.peter.fischer@house.mn, or by postal mail at 421 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155.

 

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