Friday March 22, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Legislation underscoring the state’s equal pay law and requiring employers to discuss flexible work schedules with workers sailed through the Vermont House Wednesday without the support of two local lawmakers.

Reps. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington, and Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington, said they fully support equal pay for women. They did not support the legislation, however, because of other issues included in it.

The bill, H.99, which passed Wednesday by a 115 to 22 margin, requires employers to respond to a request for a flexible work schedule within 30 days and reach a decision within two weeks. An employee could make two requests per year. The requests could be denied if they are not consistent with the business’ operation or legal or contractual obligations.

The legislation also includes protections for employees who seek information about wages, but does not require that other employees’ wages be revealed.

Most local representatives hailed the legislation, including Bennington Democratic Rep. Brian Campion.

"I think the fact that we actually are saying that employees can now talk to their employers, have conversations and not have any repercussions, is a huge, huge asset if you’re a man or woman trying to balance work and life," Campion said.

Campion said he finds it "appalling that women are still not receiving equal pay.


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"To me, in 2013, this is the state of Vermont. We have women that are making 84 cents on the dollar compared to men," he said. "I support any effort to end this type of discrimination."

"I’m actually surprised by anyone who disagrees with that at this point. I think that vote shows it," Campion added.

Votes by Browning and Morrissey against the bill had nothing to do with equal pay, they said.

"The key thing is equal pay is already the law. A good part of the bill was actually talking about how that is the law," Browning said.

Rather, Browning said, the bill establishes a system requiring employers to have conversations about flexible schedules that she is not comfortable with.

"The employer has to tell them yes or no in a certain amount of time," she said. "I think that in many places those conversations are already happening. In other places it just isn’t possible. I just found requiring conversations and having managers and small business owners justify their decisions about how their business is undertaken to be unnecessary."

Morrissey said she has consistently fought for equal wages for women, having served as president of a local Business and Professional Women group. But the bill does nothing new to advance equal pay, she said.

Instead, it leads to "micro-managing" by the Legislature and adds "complexities to employers and employees creating their own strong and respectful working relationships," Morrissey said.

The bill now heads to the Senate for its consideration.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami