New Jersey governor and Donald Trump lackey Chris Christie vetoed yesterday a bill barring gender-based wage discrimination. His reason? Because providing equal pay for equal work would make New Jersey “very business unfriendly.” You know, just like that pesky Civil Rights Act took such a toll on innocent oppressed businesses across America.
The bill in question, SB 992, would have banned employers from paying women less than men for “substantially similar” work, as determined based on the required responsibilities, effort, and skills for jobs across all of an employer’s operations. This legislation would have been significantly stronger than the federal equal pay legislation, which merely mandates equal pay for the exact same work, with women only being legally entitled to equal compensation if they can prove that they are performing the exact same work as a more highly-compensated male colleague. The New Jersey law would have essentially shifted the burden of proof from employees to employers, only allowing differing pay rates between genders if employers could prove it was based on something besides sex, such as education, experience, or performance.
This progressive redefinition of the concept of equal pay is known as pay equity, and is crucially necessary given the ease with which the federal equal pay legislation is bypassed, both deliberately and unconsciously. It is extremely easy for employers to claim that women are not performing the exact same work as men, and that is all that is currently needed to toss out a pay discrimination case.
Moreover, women’s work is valued less than men’s regardless of any other factors. Thus the pay drops when women enter a male-dominated field and women who perform work that is essentially the same as men but slightly different are compensated significantly less (think maids vs. janitors, women’s coaches vs. men’s coaches, elementary teachers vs. high school teachers, etc.). Pay equity would theoretically end this rampant discrimination, and indeed the gender wage gap has been narrowed significantly in states like Minnesota that enacted pay equity laws in an earlier wave of activism in the 1980s. More recently, California recently passed a law almost identical to the one Christie shot down yesterday.
Christie, however, apparently objects to pay equity and the true equality it would provide, calling it “nonsensical” in his written explanation of his veto. His main complaint appeared to be that it would make New Jersey “unfriendly for business,” which apparently trumps human rights in his mind. Perhaps taking after the hypocrisies of his master Trump, Christie went on to reiterate his support for “a prohibition… on wage discrimination” all while vetoing just such a prohibition.
The governor also had other objections to the bill. For example the bill would also have restarted the statute of limitations each time an employee was given an unfair paycheck and allowed the employee to get back pay for the entire time she was being paid less. Christie objected to this on the grounds that it went further than the current federal law – the Ledbetter Act – and would make New Jersey “a liberal outlier.” He said, “there is no reason for our law to go beyond the Ledbetter Act.” Except, of course, for the fact that the Ledbetter Act is grossly insufficient and has done essentially nothing to close the wage gap in the seven years since it was implemented. He also objected to a provision requiring that businesses contracting with the state file with the state the gender, race, job title and compensation of every employee associated with that contract, a provision that President Obama has worked hard to implement and that would curtail pay discrimination by increasing transparency. Christie called such a provision “outrageous bureaucratic red tape.”
Christie has a mixed record on equal pay bills; while he’s signed some before, he’s also vetoed many others including bills similar to SB 992. This time, however, the legislature may overrule him. The bill passed by decisive margins in both houses – 28-4 in the Senate and 54-14-6 in the Assembly – and the Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), one of the bill’s sponsors, has said that the possibility of an override vote remains open. In the meantime Democrats will be negotiating with Christie to try to reach an agreement on some sort of pay equity law. Anything less will be a betrayal of New Jersey’s women, who on average make about 80% of their male counterparts for the same work, or $12,000 less annually.
James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.