Gov. Andrew Cuomo used the occasion of the ticker tape parade for the U.S. women’s soccer team in Manhattan to sign two bills Wednesday that will make it easier for women in New York to receive pay equal to men.
The measure mandates equal pay for all employees in New York who do "substantially similar work" regardless of their gender. It also extends the equal pay provision for workers who are in a protected class which includes race, gender identity, or disability.
Just before the parade for the women’s soccer team began, Cuomo issued a warning to New York’s employers.
"If you don't pay women what you pay men then you have no business in the state of New York," Cuomo said as the crowd cheered. "Because we are going to sign a bill that says equal pay for equal work."
Senate sponsor Alessandra Biaggi (D-NYC) said the expansion of the equal pay protections helps to address what she says is a systematic issue of pay discrimination that is plaguing marginalized communities. She also noted the new law places more responsibility on the employer to remedy a pay discrimination issue rather than having an employee prove a pay discrepancy.
"It’s shifting the burden of proof from the employee to the employer," Biaggi said. "And, also making sure that the burden is not on the person who is coming forward."
The women’s soccer team, which has won the World Cup four times since 1991, has raised the issue of pay inequality after it was revealed that they are earning 38% of what the U.S. men’s national soccer team is paid, even though the men have never won a World Cup. The women have sued the U.S. Soccer Federation, saying, in addition, they bring in more revenue for the sport than the men do.
Cuomo condemned FIFA, soccer's worldwide governing body, saying they did the women a disservice and an injustice by paying them less.
"These 23 champions are banging on the glass ceiling that is still in existence in the United States of America," said Cuomo. "And, they are going to keep banging until they break it."
Cuomo also signed into law a second measure that says an employer can’t ask a prospective worker's pay history at prior jobs, because, he says, that could perpetuate the initial injustice of lower pay.
Sen. Biaggi said even with these new protections, she understands why some women or members of protected class might still be reluctant to ask their bosses for the same amount as men for similar work.
"This is a first step toward closing the wage gap in New York State," Biaggi said. "Culture sometimes takes a while to catch up, and often times when you pass a law, the law can change the culture."
Biaggi said it’s still a good idea to consult an attorney to make sure the process is followed correctly to protect the employee, and if that’s unaffordable, to try to seek out a lawyer who would do the work pro bono.