Leggett proposes pay-equity law for male, female contractors in Montgomery County

Contractors working for Montgomery County would be required to show that they pay men and women equally and do not retaliate against workers who share salary information under legislation introduced Tuesday by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D).

A handful of states, including New Mexico and Minnesota, have laws requiring pay equity for contract workers and government employees. Other states, including New Jersey, have outlawed retaliation against workers for sharing pay information.

But advocates for pay equity said Tuesday that if Leggett’s proposal is approved by the County Council, Montgomery would be the first municipal government to establish such requirements for contractors.

“Women deserve to make the same pay as their male colleagues,” Leggett said at an afternoon announcement, flanked by council members Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) and Nancy Navarro (D-Mid-County), state lawmakers and other pay-equity advocates.

Leggett’s initiative follows attempts by the White House and congressional Democrats to embrace pay equity, an effort strategists say could draw more women to the polls for this fall’s midterm elections.

Last month, Senate Republicans defeated the Paycheck Fairness Act. At the same time, President Obama signed executive orders requiring federal contractors to disclose more information about what their employees make and to allow workers to discuss their earnings with one another.

The proposal in Montgomery also comes seven weeks before Maryland’s June 24 Democratic primary, when Leggett will face challenges from council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville) and former county executive Doug Duncan.

The proposal could give a more forward-looking focus to Leggett’s bid for a third term, which to date has focused mostly on touting his management of county finances during the recession.

According to the Obama administration, women generally earn 77 percent of what men make — a figure some analysts call misleading or incomplete. The county government has no specific data on whether its contractors are paying employees equitably, Leggett said Tuesday. But given “the evidence across the nation,” he said, it is likely that there are inequities.

“If I’m wrong about this, I’m going to make sure I err on the side of making sure this isn’t out there,” Leggett said.

The measure is unlikely to be taken up by the council before the primary because of budget deliberations and other pending matters. But Floreen and Navarro voiced enthusiastic support, calling the proposal an example of the county’s willingness to lead the way on issues where the federal government has faltered.

“This is a pretty politically correct place,” Floreen said. “We’re going to say all the right things and do all the right things.”

Leggett’s announcement drew praise from Michele Leber, chair of the National Committee on Pay Equity, who said it represented a first for local government.

“I applaud County Executive Leggett for doing this,” Leber said.

Holly Joseph, co-president of the Montgomery chapter of the National Organization for Women, said she understood that some critics will call it election-year pandering.

“I say, ‘Pander on,’ ” Joseph said.

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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