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With executive order, Wolf takes aim at gender pay gap

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Gov. Tom Wolf signs the Equal Pay for Employees of the Commonwealth executive order in efforts to close the gender wage gap in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, June 6.
Gov. Tom Wolf signs the Equal Pay for Employees of the Commonwealth executive order in efforts to close the gender wage gap in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, June 6. - (Photo / )

Gov. Tom Wolf took steps Wednesday to end the gender pay gap in Pennsylvania, signing an executive order to protect women seeking jobs with state agencies.

At an event at the state Capitol, Wolf announced an executive order that will prohibit state agencies from requiring job applicants to reveal their salary history. The order, which takes effect in 90 days, will also require agencies to base salaries solely on job responsibilities and the applicants’ skills.

There has been speculation for months that Wolf would push to bar employers from requiring disclosure of salary history in the hiring process, a move designed to end the cycle in which women typically earn less than men, even as their careers advance and they switch jobs.

"If someone is trapped in a less than equal pay scale and you feel that one of the questions you should ask is how much are you making now, you’re basically perpetuating that inequity," Wolf said. "We need to break that cycle, whether there is one or 50 or a million people, it doesn’t matter."

Wolf's executive order does not protect state employees that are unionized; it applies only to management-level positions. 

Wolf is also calling on the Pennsylvania General Assembly to pass similar legislation that would protect all women workers in the state. The bills at issue are Senate Bills 1200 and 1201, and House Bills 1243 and 931, all of which would help ensure wage equity for all Pennsylvanians.

The proposed bills seek to establish set wage rates for positions, clarify violations and penalties, as well as create an Equal Pay Commission to help return unpaid wages and protect workers. 

The state's original Equal Pay Law, enacted in 1959, prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on sex and requires them to pay both sexes the same wages for equal jobs. Though the law establishes penalties such as fines and possible imprisonment for employers who fail to keep records of their wage rates, the law also allows wage variations based on seniority, merit systems or "a differential based on any other factor other than sex."

The governor previously took action regarding the gender wage gap by creating the Pennsylvania Commission for Women through an executive order in October.

Pennsylvania ranks 23rd in the nation in terms of the female-male earning gap, with the 18th U.S. Congressional District outside of Pittsburgh having the biggest gap in the state. Women there earn about 72 cents on the dollar compared to men, compared to the state average of 79 cents per dollar.

Statewide, the pay gap costs women nearly $34 billion a year, according to a report from the National Partnership for Women and Families. Minorities are at even more of a disadvantage, as black women and Latina women earn close to $17,000 and $22,724 less than the average man, respectively.

"The gender wage gap is a significant issue right here in Pennsylvania and all across the country," Wolf said. "It’s wrong for women, who due to this gap routinely lose out on thousands of dollars each year and close to one million dollars over their working lifetime."

Editors' note: This story has been modified from its original version to specify which state employees are affected by the executive order.

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