With the backing of working Rhode Islanders and a coalition of community organizations, Sen. Gayle L. Goldin, Sen. Jeanine Calkin, Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell and Rep. Susan R. Donovan today announced their campaign for a $15 minimum wage by 2023 and equal pay for women and minorities.
The legislators held a State House event with a coalition of community organizations to announce their introduction of bills to enact the minimum wage raises and provide protections and transparency in the workplace to help women and people of color demand equal pay for equal work.
The minimum wage legislation would gradually increase the hourly minimum wage from $10.10 to $15 by 2023, and would also gradually increase the hourly minimum wage for employees receiving gratuities, currently $3.89, until it is equal to the non-tipped minimum wage by 2028. From 2024 onward, the minimum wage would be linked to the cost of living or the consumer price index.
The sponsors said the minimum wage effort — known as the “Fight for $15” — is focused on ensuring that people who work full time are not living in poverty.
Representative Ranglin-Vassell (D-Dist. 5, Providence), who works as a Providence school teacher, related reading a student’s essay in which he talked about having completely empty cupboards, despite his mother’s working double shifts.
“We can help families in Rhode Island by passing a $15 living wage so that children whose parents work up to 80 hours per week do not have to go to bed hungry. Some will say, ‘let them pull themselves up by their own boot straps.’ People who care about justice say ‘You can’t pull yourself up by your boot straps if you can’t even afford boots.’ That’s why we are fighting day in and day out to make sure that if you work full time or even double time as my student’s mom does, you should never live in poverty.”
According to the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, 165,000 Rhode Islanders would be affected by the increase. Approximately 65,000 children in the state have at least one parent who would be affected. Rhode Island’s Economic Progress Institute estimates that a single adult needs $20,500 per year to meet basic needs. A single-parent family needs $52,932 and a two-parent family requires $58,054 to raise a toddler and a school-aged child.
While the sponsors acknowledge that $15 still falls short of the wage it takes to support a family in Rhode Island, they said it would be a step toward greater fairness for working people.
“We continue to live in a period of tremendous income inequality. At a time where CEOs earn about 335 times that of the average worker and corporations make huge profits, their employees struggle to make ends meet. We need to stand by working families and fight for a living wage of $15 an hour, which our legislation would implement over the next 5 years. Not only would we be supporting the hard-working people of our state, but raising the minimum wage would stimulate the economy by increasing consumer spending,” said Senator Calkin (D-Dist. 30, Warwick).
Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, New York, Washington, Oregon and the District of Columbia and many cities have already enacted increases that will eventually reach $12 to $15 an hour.
The Fair Pay Act, sponsored by Senator Goldin and Representative Donovan, would make it illegal to pay workers less than their white, male colleagues without a clearly documented difference in skills. It clarifies “comparable work,” making it clear that workers need to be paid equally for “substantially similar” work even if every detail is not the same. It bans policies that prevent workers from discussing their pay with each other and removes past salary history as a consideration since discrimination is perpetuated over time by employers relying on past salaries, rather than skills and value, to determine current pay. It also requires the employer to disclose the salary range for the position. Last year, Massachusetts passed a similar Fair Pay Act, joining cities and companies across the country that are enacting these policies.
In Rhode Island, a woman working full-time still makes only 86 cents to the dollar that her male counterpart makes. Women of color are even more deeply affected. Black women in Rhode Island make 58 percent of what their white male counterparts make; for Latinas, the number is even lower—51 percent. On average, Rhode Island working women lose more than $7,000 per year to the wage gap—money desperately needed by working families.
“Despite the existing Equal Pay Act, wage discrimination laws are poorly enforced and cases are extremely difficult to prove and win. Stronger legislation such as the Fair Pay Act is needed to ease the burden of filing claims and clarify the right to pay equity,” said Rep. Susan R. Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth). “Women work just as hard as our counterparts to advance our careers and support our families. If we are serious about economic equality for women and people of color and supporting working families, we need to address the practices that continue to allow employers to discriminate against employees and perpetuate the wage gap.”
The sponsors linked this effort to address inequities to nationwide efforts to address power dynamics in the workplace.
“In recent months, the imbalance of power in our culture and our workplaces has been given some of the long-overdue public discussion it deserves. The fair pay bill we are introducing directly addresses the imbalance of power that, too often, holds women back. This is about recognizing that every woman deserves to be paid what a man is paid. Period. That equal rights mean exactly that: equality. This isn’t a zero sum game; When we pay women equally, we all prosper,” said Senator Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence).
The bills are supported by a coalition that includes the Center for Justice, the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Economic Progress Institute, Jobs with Justice, Planned Parenthood, RI NOW, the Rhode Island Food Bank, SEIU 1199, SEIU 32BJ, Teamsters Local 251, the Women’s Fund of RI and Working Families.