State Bill Would Squash Philly’s New Wage Law

It contains a preemption clause and passed in the state Senate on Wednesday.

The fight against Philadelphia’s new wage law may be far from over, and this may come as no surprise to its Philadelphia backers. Comcast already threatened to sue the city over it and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce has condemned the law as a misguided assault on business.

And now, legislators in Harrisburg passed senate bill 241 on Wednesday that would serve to nullify the Philly law that bars employers from asking a job candidate what they’ve earned in the past.

The bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Tom McGarrigle of Delaware County, was first brought forward on January 31st. Sections of the bill make amendments to the state’s Equal Pay Law. One clause for example, prevents employers from retaliating against an employee who files a pay equity lawsuit in court. And another section basically says that employers can’t force workers to keep quiet about what they’re paid. The measures ostensibly foster equity—employees can’t face consequences if they take action in court and less secrecy around pay gives employer’s less of an opportunity to discriminate.

But the final section of the bill is a preemption clause that states that the bill, if signed into law, would supersede any local ordinance concerning equal pay, hence striking out Philly’s wage law.

According to the Republican caucus that voted for the bill unanimously, their intention is to extend equal pay protections to everyone in the Commonwealth.

“We believe [pay equity] is a significant issue that deserves statewide attention and not something to be handled in each local municipality,” state Sen. Jake Corman one of the sponsors of the bill, told Philadelphia magazine, “And these new protections don’t exist in Pennsylvania law.” Corman also says employers with business in multiple municipalities have to deal with a different set of rules in each place. “And we don’t want woman in one part of the state to not have protections that exist somewhere else in the state,” he said.

I asked Senator Corman whether he was familiar with Philadelphia’s wage equity law. “I’m not overly familiar with it,” he told me, “But I know it addresses new hires and we are trying to address the current workforce.”

Corman says he’s open to dialogue about all pay equity matters. “I encourage municipalities to bring these issues up at the state level. We’re open to the new discussion.”

The Mayor’s Office is calling the preemption clause a last-minute toss-in that would infringe upon municipal home rule. “For state lawmakers to cherry-pick and toss out city laws to which they may object undermines the right to home rule afforded to every municipality in the Commonwealth,” said Mayor Kenney‘s spokeswoman Lauren Hitt, citing the fact that the law passed unanimously in Philly City Council. “Given that many of the sponsors regularly espouse the need for local control, the effort strikes me as hypocritical.”

The bill, which passed 32-14 in the Senate, is on its way to the House and according to Noelle Marconi, Councilman Bill Greenlee’s legislative director, the city’s law department will conduct an analysis to determine exactly which legislation will be preempted if the bill becomes law.

“We hope to get something into place this year that the governor can sign,” Corman said.

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