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Big Day for Minnesota Women: Women's Economic Security Act Signed into Law Today

Created: 05/11/2014 2:12 PM KAALtv.com

ST. PAUL, MN – Lawmakers and advocates joined Governor Mark Dayton on Mother’s Day to sign the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) into law. Women in Minnesota make up half the workforce, but earn on average just 80 cents for every dollar paid to men. WESA is nation-leading legislation designed to break down barriers to economic progress for women. WESA strengthens workplace protections and flexibility for pregnant women and nursing mothers, expands employment opportunities for women in high-wage, high-demand occupations, and reduces the gender pay gap through increased enforcement of equal pay laws.

“Today, as we honor our Mothers and Grandmothers, we have taken a giant step forward for Minnesota's working women and their families” said Governor Mark Dayton. “It should not require a law to ensure that women are treated fairly in the workplace, or that they are paid equally for their work. However, too many women still experience serious economic disparities, unfair gender barriers, and other workplace discrimination in our state. For all of them, this law is vitally important and long-overdue. I thank the bill’s authors, Senator Sandy Pappas and Representative Carly Melin, for their leadership on behalf of all Minnesota women.”

“When future generations look back at the barriers facing working women today, we will be able to look them in the eye and tell them we took action to make our state a better place to live, work and raise a family,” said chief author State Representative Carly Melin (DFL – Hibbing). “This legislation strengthens working families and grows the middle class by ensuring that our mothers, sisters, daughters, and grandmothers have equal opportunities for economic security.”

"While Minnesota's economy continues to grow, progress for women's economic prosperity has lagged woefully behind,” said Senator Sandy Pappas (DFL – St. Paul), chief author of the Senate bill. “WESA will move us in the right direction and ensure women finally receive equal pay for equal work, that we don't face discrimination for being mothers, and that we are treated fairly in the workplace.”

“When women succeed, Minnesota succeeds,” said Speaker of the House Paul Thissen. “Minnesota’s economy is headed in the right direction, but not everyone is sharing in the gains. And when you dig underneath the first layer of economic challenges facing Minnesotans, we find that the people struggling to stay or step-in to the middle class are disproportionately women. The Women’s Economic Security Act aims to break down barriers to economic progress so that women -- and all Minnesotans -- have a fair opportunity to succeed.”

The Women’s Economic Security Act takes the following steps to break down barriers to success for women:

Stronger Workplace Protections

  • Requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee for health conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.
  • Improves the law that requires employers to provide reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk for her infant child. 
  • Enhances protections for employees seeking to assert rights or remedies if a violation occurs in the workplace. 

Closing the Gender Pay Gap

  • Reduces the gender pay gap through increased enforcement of equal pay laws for state contractors by requiring businesses with 40 or more employees seeking state contracts over $500,000 to certify they are paying equal wages to workers regardless of gender.
  • Ensures the rights of employees to voluntarily discuss their compensation without fear of retaliation from their employers. 
  • Decreases the gender pay gap by addressing the “motherhood penalty,” requiring businesses to make hiring, promotion, and termination decisions regardless of  an employee’s “familial status” (Pregnant women and parents and legal guardians of children under 18 who live with them). 

Expanded family and sick leave

  • Expands unpaid leave under the Minnesota Parental Leave Act from 6 to 12 weeks and allows use of leave during pregnancy. 
  • Allows grandparents to use existing earned sick leave to care for an ill or injured grandchild. 

More opportunities in high-demand jobs

  • Expands support for employers; workforce organizations; and others to recruit, prepare, place and retain women in nontraditional occupations and apprenticeships, especially low income and older women.
  • Supports the development of high economic impact women-owned businesses in nontraditional industries.

Enhanced support for victims of violence

  • Expands unemployment insurance eligibility currently available to victims of domestic violence to include victims of stalking and sexual assault.
  • Allows employees to use existing earned sick leave to recover from sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking.

Economic Security in Retirement 

  • Enhances retirement security by considering a state retirement savings plan for those without an employer-provided option. 

 

A big day for Minnesota women as WESA was signed into law today.
Office of the Governor