Bipartisan bill which passed overwhelmingly would have banned employers from paying women less for “substantially similar” work as men.
New Jersey lawmakers on both sides of the aisle took an important step forward earlier this year towards creating a more equitable workplace, requiring employers to pay women the same as men for equal work. Governor Chris Christie, taking a brief break from his chief cheerleader position inside the Trump campaign, apparently felt the protective measures went to far in its insistence for equal pay, vetoing the bill in its entirety Monday afternoon.
The bill, S992, passed overwhelmingly in both chambers of the state’s legislature (28-4 and 54-14-6, respectively) and sought to ban employers from paying women less for “substantially similar” work as men, allowing only for differing pay rates between genders if employers could transparently prove it was based on education, experience, performance, and prior qualifications. The similarity of the work between identical or closely related job titles would have been based on required responsibilities, workflow, and mandatory skills.
In his official statement rejecting the bill, Christie noted his prior support for equal pay protections but said there is no reason for state legislation “to go beyond the Lilly Ledbetter Act,” the federal equal pay legislation signed by President Obama in 2009.
While that feels like a logical summation – especially to somebody like Chris Christie who has undoubtedly never experienced wage discrimination – it nonetheless seeks to pivot away from the paramount realities that women still face in the workplace. Wage discrimination still DOES exist despite the passing of the aforementioned act which, despite its monumental push forward in the fight for equal pay still has many acknowledged shortcomings. So rationalizing a state bill that would seek to go further – and potentially push the country along in the process – feels akin to to state lawmakers (Pat McCrory) rejecting legislation that would protect LGBT persons from discrimination on the basis of SCOTUS historic Obergefell ruling.
To be clear: The comparison between Pat McCrory/Charlotte/HB2 is not entirely accurate in relation to Chris Christie/Lilly Ledbetter/S992, however it nonetheless illustrates a common reaction among GOP policymakers as it pertains to equal rights: We have laws in place already, and if even if they aren’t working properly, there is no point in trying to improve them.
Most equal pay laws in different states require the same pay for the exact same work. S992, however, sought to go much farther, reaching beyond the same job titles to require women be paid equally if they’re accomplishing the same tasks in a different role. The reasoning behind this additional legislation is that studies have shown that when women enter a particular job, the pay drops because their work is valued less, even if it’s the same work being performed by men concurrently.
The provisions required in this particular area of the proposed legislation is formally known as “pay equity assessments,” and California passed a law last year that is nearly identical.
It was this particular piece of the bill that Christie issued his forceful objection.
“This is nonsensical and makes New Jersey very business unfriendly,” Christie said, “While I support an explicit prohibition on wage discrimination on the basis of gender, I recognize that that identification of unlawful wage discrimination requires an intensive fact-based evaluation of the workplace and positions. This bill eliminates that requirement. That is wrong.”
The public statement marks a noted departure from rhetoric he previously displayed in his presidential campaign, where in an appeal to broaden the GOP’s female coalitions he talked about fair pay and harassment in the workplace being key foundations of his policy platform, saying he owed his beliefs to the “strong women in my life.”
Currently, women in New Jersey make 80 percent of what men make on average in identical roles or identical tasks.
His vetoing of S992 is his latest rejection – but by no means the first – in the fight for equal pay, most notably a bill which would have required government contractors to report compensation information. At the time, he called the bill “senseless bureaucracy.”