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Philly’s ‘pay equity’ law could be toppled by state legislation

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (AP photo/Matt Rourke)

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (AP photo/Matt Rourke)

Republican lawmakers in Harrisburg are taking aim at a new Philadelphia law banning employers from asking job applicants about their salary history.

Sen. Tom McGarrigle, R-Delaware, sponsored a bill that has passed that chamber and is now pending in the House that would override the Philadelphia measure and block similar ordinances statewide.

The “pay equity” bill passed Philadelphia City Council unanimously in December. Signed by Mayor Jim Kenney, it is set to take effect on May 23.

Backers argued that if previous earnings were kept secret, women and minorities would start to receive higher salary offers early on in their careers, potentially disrupting the cycle of women making less than men for the same work. 

Opponents, though, said it would be a headache for businesses. Comcast, in particular, lobbied strongly against the measure, threatening to sue the city in an attempt to overturn it on free-speech grounds, a line of attack dismissed by top city lawyers.

Others warned of unintended consequences, such as women getting even lower offers.

The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia opposed the salary-history city law, but spokeswoman Liz Ferry said chamber representatives did not influence the drafting of McGarrigle’s bill.

“We were not involved with this issue in Harrisburg,” Ferry said.

Nonetheless, Kenney spokesman Mike Dunn said the office is ready to fight to keep the “pay equity” law alive.

“For state lawmakers to cherry-pick and try to toss out city laws that they may object to undermines that right to Home Rule that is afforded not just to Philadelphia but to every municipality in Pennsylvania,” said Dunn, referring to state Constitution’s rule that allows municipalities to enact local legislation not specifically denied by that document.

Dunn said the move appears to be part of a pattern. In 2015, the state Legislature attempted to invalidate Philadelphia’s mandatory sick-leave law.

“These bills are not just written in the dead of night and quickly signed by the mayor without a public process. There is a lengthy public process for all this legislation, and it must pass a majority of City Council,” Dunn said.

If the Philadelphia law does survive all challenges, it would stay the country’s first measure barring companies from asking potential hires about past wages.

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