As the legislative session came to a close on May 9, the General Assembly passed several bills to safeguard the health and safety of women in Connecticut and combat the gender wage gap. But lawmakers fell short on critical opportunities to advance women’s economic security.
The legislature approved several measures to strengthen protections for survivors of sexual and domestic violence, improve access to reproductive health care, allow pregnant patients to exercise living wills, and protect the dignity of incarcerated women and transgender individuals.
We especially applaud the bipartisan passage of P.A. 18-8: An Act Concerning Pay Equity. With the governor’s signature on May 22, Connecticut became the fifth state to prohibit employers from asking about a potential employee’s salary history, a practice that perpetuates gender and racial wage gaps. Research shows that women earn significantly less than men from the very beginning of their careers. This act is one step to avoid perpetuating discriminatory pay over the course of a career.
We can’t overlook that in the past year, we’ve heard countless stories about sexual harassment and assault in the workplace and beyond. With the #MeToo movement, many individuals finally feel supported to tell their stories.
It is an embarrassment that lawmakers failed to stand in solidarity with survivors and take a strong stance against sexual harassment and assault. The “Time’s Up” bill would have expanded sexual harassment training requirements, increased the amount of time available for victims to file a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) and eliminate the statute of limitations in criminal sexual assault cases. The “Time’s Up” legislation provided a much-needed state-level response to say “enough is enough” to harassment and discrimination.
Plus, despite strong public support from small businesses and voters across party lines, lawmakers did not take a vote in either chamber on paid family and medical leave. Currently, just 15 percent of workers have access to paid family and medical leave through their employers. Only 5 percent of low-wage workers, the majority of whom are women and people of color, have access to paid leave. In the absence of paid leave, workers face financial penalties when they need to take time off to care for a loved one or recover from an illness. Without a paycheck when they need it most, workers fall behind on bills and medical expenses, and may even face foreclosure. Research finds that due to a lack of paid maternity leave, more women than ever forgo starting a family entirely.
The General Assembly also did not raise the minimum wage, or ensure that on-call shift workers have access to a fair schedule. Sixty-percent of workers who earn less than $15 per hour in Connecticut are women and unable to make ends meet. Sadly, lawmakers succumbed to the pressure from the business lobby to stick with the status quo, rather than prioritize the needs of working women, especially women of color, who are essential to the health of our economy.
Economic security for women is essential to our state’s competitiveness and prosperity of Connecticut’s economy. Without policies like paid family and medical leave, a livable wage, fair scheduling and protections from sexual harassment, women lose valuable wages they’d otherwise spend to support their families and contribute to the state’s economy. Now it’s time for each of us to ask the hard questions of statewide constitutional and legislative candidates. Ask candidates the question: “What will you do to advance women’s economic success?”
On Nov. 6, we expect to see record numbers of women voting and running for office. They will use their ballot to send a clear message: we need leaders who will prioritize and pass paid family and medical leave, anti-sexual harassment protections, minimum wage increases, and fair scheduling practices.
We won’t wait any longer, for the strength of Connecticut hinges on the success of women.
Kate Farrar is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund.