“How much does the job pay?” is no longer much of a mystery for job seekers in Colorado, thanks to a state law passed in 2019 and enacted two years later.
Other states have followed suit in recent months, including California, Washington and soon, New York. But Colorado’s law wasn’t perfect. And now, the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act is poised for an update from some of the state lawmakers behind it.
“Though the Equal Pay Act is working well, with these additions, it will better serve workers and employers across the state,” said Sen. Jessie Danielson, a Democrat from Wheat Ridge, who was one of the prime sponsors of the original wage transparency law.
Pushback came from out-of-state companies that didn’t ignore Colorado’s new law — they just excluded candidates from Colorado. A Commerce City engineer created a site to track violators (it’s now archived). But there was also confusion among local employers about employee promotions and whether they had to advertise the new role to outsiders.
“The complexity of the law, the confusion amongst employers, the problem of not addressing remote work situations, because they were not contemplated in 2019 when the original bill passed, needs to be addressed for the future of the workforce,” said Loren Furman, president and CEO of the Colorado Chamber.
This bill aims to clear some of those things up. A draft shared with The Colorado Sun attempts to clarify the difference between “career progression” for existing workers versus a “job opportunity.” The latter means a current or anticipated vacancy that needs to be filled. The former is a promotion as part of that type of job. Remote jobs are not addressed in the draft bill.
Danielson said she and other advocates, which include The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, have met with interested parties since spring to suss out their differences. But their attempts to water down or remove protections for Coloradans who work remotely for out-of-state companies only threatens pay equity, especially for women.
“Excluding remote workers from the protections of the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act would negatively impact a valued and critical part of our workforce,” she said.
Impact of the Equal Pay law
When introduced four years ago, Colorado’s Equal Pay law sought to equalize pay for substantially similar work. It stemmed from data showing that women and people of color often earn much less than their white or male colleagues even in the same roles. In Colorado, women earned 86 cents for every $1 earned by men, according to a 2018 analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
The impact of these new policies isn’t yet known because the laws are young. It’s too soon. Existing research was deemed “not conclusive” by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
In an analysis of recent wage transparency studies, the organization found pay transparency laws help narrow the gender wage gap by reducing wage growth among top earners, who tend to be men. But, the analysis found, these laws do not necessarily increase women’s earnings. Two studies conducted in university settings found the salaries of women faculty members increased following the pay-transparency intervention. “Pay-transparency policies tend to rely on individual workers advocating for pay increases based on newly available information,” the analysis said.
But another measure of Colorado’s Equal Pay law is the impact in the United States, said Louise Myrland, vice president of programs at The Women’s Foundation of Colorado. New York City’s wage transparency law went into effect in November. Several other states, including Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and South Carolina are considering legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Connecticut, Maryland, Nevada and Rhode Island have implemented laws similar to Colorado but they don’t require salaries to be listed.
“Colorado was the first that made a big splash and got a lot of attention for requiring pay ranges and compensation information in job postings, we’re really leading the way,” Myrland said. “Today in 2023, because several other states have followed Colorado’s lead, about one in four workers nationwide now are covered by pay transparency laws.”
The Women’s Foundation worked on the original law and new bill with lawmakers and other organizations that included the Colorado Women’s Bar Association and 9to5 Colorado, an organization representing working women. Danielson is joined by two of the three prime sponsors of the original bill, including Sen. Janet Buckner, an Aurora Democrat and Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, a Denver Democrat. The fourth, Brittany Pettersen, is now a U.S. representative. Rep. Jennifer Bacon, also a Denver Democrat, is also a prime sponsor.
Equal pay stats: 631 complaints; Twitter, Lockheed fined
Complaints about the existing wage transparency law are still coming in, though activity trailed off during the year, according to the state Department of Labor and Employment. The office that oversees it, the Division of Labor Standards and Statistics, received 631 complaints about violations, which included posts that shared no wages, didn’t include a description of benefits or offered too wide of a range (ranges must have a specific bottom and top amount).
“Compared to the first four months of 2022, the average number of monthly complaints in the last four months of 2022 decreased by almost 45%,” a labor department spokesperson said.
After giving the companies the chance to correct the issue, the vast majority did. The state wound up issuing citations for just four companies in 2022. Three were fined, including Lockheed Martin and Twitter. Those cases have not been publicly disclosed yet, but will be, according to the division.
The third, SpotOn Transact, a San Francisco-based payments company, paid a $16,000 fine in July based on violations related to 33 job postings that did not include compensation for jobs that could be performed in Colorado.
➔ Spot a job listing in violation of the Equal Pay law? >> File a complaint
➔ What’s your wage transparency story? Has the law helped you as a job seeker or been a burden as an employer? Share with What’s Working by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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Labor, laws and Colorado
New labor-related proposals have popped up just weeks into the new legislative session.
An already contentious one is House Bill 1118, the Fair Workweek Employment Standards bill. It would require employers to post worker schedules ahead of time and not penalize employees who say “no” to last-minute calls for help. And workers who do respond to last-minute schedule changes would receive a “predictability pay” bonus.
“When businesses provide workers with schedules 14 days in advance and provide at least 12 hours of rest time between shifts, it’s a win-win for employers and employees alike,” Nina DiSalvo, policy director at Towards Justice, said in an email. “Employees who can schedule child care, a second job or other responsibilities — plus know their income to budget to cover their bills — are happier, healthier, more productive and generate more profit for the business.”
That puts a burden on employers, so there’s strong opposition to the bill already. What about weather disruptions, asked Furman, with the Colorado Chamber. Personal employee emergencies? The bill as proposed is too punitive, she said.
“An employer can be sued for changing the schedule (without) a two-week advance notice,” Furman said. “It doesn’t contemplate a snow bomb or act of God or even just an employee that has an emergency or unintended absence. … It’s just amazing to me that they haven’t contemplated the scenarios in a state like Colorado that has such weather variations.”
So… more work to be done on this bill. It’s been scheduled for a committee meeting on Feb. 16.
➔ Interested in how the sausage is made? Committee meetings where the debates flow on proposed laws can be heard online. Just visit the Colorado General Assembly schedule and press the audio icon to listen. Or find the bill of interest and check its upcoming schedule. >> Weekly schedule
➔ How old are you? Don’t even ask. Danielson also is a main sponsor of the Job Application Fairness Act, which would stop employers from asking job seekers their age, birth date and high school or college graduation dates. It’s to combat age discrimination for older workers, who should be “judged on their merit equal to their younger counterparts when they’re trying to get a new job,” Danielson said. Business groups oppose it, saying in this still-tight market for workers, it’s “not an issue in the current labor market,” said the Denver Metro Chamber. >> Read story
Do we need more laws?
The clear winner in the latest What’s Working poll about what new laws we need was “None. We have too many laws.” But at 37.1% of the incoming votes, it’s not the majority. I’m going to let this poll go for at least another week because I got jammed up this week. But here’s one suggestion:
“I would love to see a bill that lets the public see how much big companies pay their shareholders while causing consumer prices to skyrocket and keeping workers’ pay low.”
We can find out tidbits like this from publicly traded companies, which must report their profits. There’s also the CEO pay ratio law, which reveals how wages of CEOs at public companies are often many times higher than their workers (here’s a searchable list). Two of the top three in Colorado — Liberty Latin America and Qurate Retail, where CEO-to-worker pay ratios are 1,055 to 1 and 686 to 1, respectively — are linked to retired cable TV mogul John Malone.
Take the poll:
Other working bits
➔ U.S. economy grew slower — News that the nation’s economy is still growing was a relief as talk of recession continued. The Wall Street Journal headlined its latest Bureau of Economic Analysis story succinctly: “Growth was less than advertised, better than feared.” The U.S. economy grew 2.9% in the fourth quarter, thanks to consumers spending more on health care, housing and utilities. But that was slower than the third quarter’s 3.2% growth. Wages also went up and savings fell. Leeds School of Business economists at the University of Colorado had previously forecast the state’s real GDP to increase 2% this year. >> Read
➔ Grants for the transitioning coal industry: There’s $9.62 million available to local agencies and organizations helping to transition their communities to new jobs and industries as the state moves to cleaner energy than coal. The most impacted communities of the “Just Transition Action Plan,” which include Yampa Valley and West End of Montrose County, get priority. >> Details
➔ New fund for unemployed and undocumented — Remember when lawmakers approved a bill last year to use federal relief to pay off that huge federal unemployment loan debt? The same bill created an unemployment fund for the undocumented workers who aren’t eligible for benefits even though their employers pay for it. Fast Company reports on how the program will work. >> Read
Don’t miss: Sun economy stories
➔Why energy bills shot up 52% — That’s how much the average Xcel Energy utility bill rose in December from a year ago, said a Colorado Public Utility Commission economist in a story by Sun reporters Joshua Perry and Mark Jaffe. Blame cold weather and the unregulated natural gas market. >> Read
➔Electrification rebates — Reporter Michael Booth rounds up how much cash consumers can get back from purchases of clean heat pumps, water heaters and more offered in Colorado. >> Read
- Related: Heat pumps do work in the bitter cold, Jaffe reports. >> Read
➔Direct-cash programs on the rise in Colorado — Getting paid to live through experimental basic-income programs has been helping low-income Coloradans survive, reports Jennifer Oldham with the Colorado Trust. She shares updates on Denver’s basic-income program. >> Read
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Thanks for sticking with me for this week’s report. As always, share your 2 cents on how the economy is keeping you down or helping you up at cosun.co/heyww. ~ tamara
Miss a column? Catch up:
- What’s Working: Colorado’s unemployment rate dropped, but so did the number of people in the workforce
- What’s Working: How Colorado’s high egg and energy prices mesh with its slowing inflation
- What’s Working: Colorado business leaders are pessimistic about 2023. Should they be?
- What’s Working: Prepare for some new costs of being employed in 2023 in Colorado
- What’s Working: Colorado sees decline in labor force but job numbers are still better than U.S.
What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column about surviving in today’s economy. Email email@example.com with stories, tips or questions. Read the archive, ask a question at cosun.co/heyww and don’t miss the next one by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww.
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