County announces legislation to foster pay equality
County Executive Steve Bellone, along with legislators and advocacy groups, propose the RISE Act, the first-of-its-kind legislation on Long Island to combat pay inequities in Suffolk County.


County announces legislation to foster pay equality


SUFFOLK COUNTY—Legislators and advocacy groups joined Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Tuesday, Sept. 4 to introduce legislation that, officials say, would protect job applicants—particularly women and people of color—by “fostering pay equity” and “preventing discrimination.” 

The RISE Act (Restricting Information on Salaries and Earnings), according to officials, would prohibit any employer in Suffolk County from requesting or seeking the wage history, including the current or previous salary, of a prospective employee during every stage of the interview and hiring process. It is the first-of-its-kind legislation on Long Island. 

Bellone’s administration points to studies finding that women, along with ethnic and racial minorities, have historically encountered lower wages than their white male counterparts. 

Bellone said, despite the pay gap being well documented for decades, the problem persists. One of the factors contributing to the pay gap, he added, is employers’ reliance on wage history to determine what salary to offer potential employees. 

The enactment of this legislation, Bellone said, would work to prevent the perpetuation of the pay gap women and minorities face by ensuring the salary offered by the employer is based on “responsibility” and “qualifications,” rather than prior wages earned. 

Bellone added that, while there is intentional exploitation when it comes to wages, many times employers don’t know they are contributing to the problem by asking what they see as a harmless question. 

DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) says the legislation is critical to changing these “workforce patterns” that allow low wages to follow workers from job to job. Gregory added that the wage gap extends into retirement, as women over the age of 75 are twice as likely to live in poverty than men the same age. 

“Reducing the gender and minority worker pay gap is vital to the long-term economic health of Suffolk County,” said deputy presiding officer Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue). “It also has the added benefit of being the right thing to do in the fight for equality.”

“In order to establish a fair and safe working environment for both men and women, we must ensure safeties and protections guaranteed to all workers are equally guarded,” said Suffolk County Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood). “The privacy of women in the workforce demands equal attention to their male counterparts,” she added. “Employers should not be allowed to inquire about women’s salary history since they may use that to justify and prolong pay inequity.” 

When asked about what kind of repercussions employers might face if they were to inquire about wages in the past, Bellone said it is not his office’s responsibility to hash out a punishment, adding that the legislation is more focused on informing workers and potential employees that they’re not required to disclose previous wages. 

Martha Maffei, executive director of SEPA Mujer, commented that many of the women—mostly Latina women—who come into her office express concerns about how they’re being treated by their employer. One of their biggest concerns, she said, is the perceived inability to leverage their wages. Maffei added that when many of the women she works with switch jobs, they often settle for the same pay or even a lower wage than their previous job because they feel as though they have “no control” when it comes to determining their income. 

Bellone also pointed out that there are already laws in place to prohibit employers from requesting wage history. When pressed about the necessity of this particular piece of legislation, Bellone said the wage gap has continued despite the current laws, and that the RISE Act would be another effort to rectify inequalities in the workforce. 

In regards to similar legislation at the state level, officials said they aren’t aware of any such proposals. 

Majority Leader Kara Hahn (D-Port Jefferson) chimed in by saying that Suffolk County “often leads the way” in regards to state legislation. “Equal pay is something we’ve been talking about for a long time,” Hahn said, adding that the legislation stresses the “advantages of the worker” rather than “decades old pay disclosures.” 

Suffolk County would be the ninth municipality in the United States, along with the fourth in New York State, to adopt a law of this nature, according to officials. Other New York State municipalities with similar legislation include Albany County, New York City and Westchester County.

If approved by the Suffolk County Legislature, the RISE Act would go into effect on June 30, 2019.

The Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning estimates that closing the gender wage gap in Suffolk would result in a net increase of spending within the county of approximately $664 million annually, which could increase Suffolk County’s total economic output by an estimated $1.14 billion, or approximately 1.3 percent of Suffolk’s estimated gross domestic product of $85.2 billion, officials said. 

Additionally, a 2016 analysis commissioned by the New York Women’s Foundation, in partnership with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, found if New York’s working women were paid the same as their male peers, men who are of the same age, have the same level of education, work the same number of hours, and have the same urban/rural status, it would reduce the poverty rate for the state’s women and their families by more than half, from 7.5 percent to 3.6 percent.