By Sacha Pfeiffer and Jon Chesto
The day before a bill aimed at closing the gender wage gap in Massachusetts is expected to go before the state Senate for a vote, one of the state’s biggest business groups has come out in favor of the legislation.
In a statement on Wednesday, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce president and CEO James E. Rooney noted that half the city’s workforce is female and said that “wage inequality not only affects businesses, it also has a negative impact on families and the overall Massachusetts economy.”
The bill would prohibit employers from seeking a job candidate’s salary history, since asking a woman to disclose her earnings, which are historically lower than men’s, could put her at a competitive disadvantage.
It would also require companies to allow employees to openly discuss their salaries.
Rooney said the chamber is “proud to be a vocal supporter” of the legislation.
But another major business group in the state, the 4,500-member Associated Industries of Massachusetts, sounded a cautionary note in a dueling statement Wednesday. In its statement, the group noted that while it supports existing statutes outlawing discriminatory pay, some employers consider the bill “counterproductive.”
“The legislation encourages unbridled litigation rather than addressing the many complex issues surrounding pay and equity in the workplace,” said the statement, which the group said it plans to send to the Senate.
It’s unusual for the Chamber of Commerce and AIM, two of the state’s most powerful business groups, to take dramatically different positions on a piece of legislation.
In fact, representatives from the Chamber, AIM, the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation typically meet once a month to discuss policy issues. Often, they have a goal of presenting a united front to state lawmakers, representing the region’s business community. That’s not going to happen, at least not anymore, with the equal-pay bill.
The final version of the bill addressed previous concerns chamber officials had. Rooney said the current bill “supports both employees and employers by bringing greater guidance to differences in pay while preventing baseless lawsuits and burdensome regulations.”
If the Senate approves the bill, it would then be sent to the House. Speaker Robert DeLeo said on Monday that he supports the end goal behind the equal-pay legislation but needs to learn more about the specific proposal before deciding whether to back it.