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Rep. Tana Senn. (Photo via HouseDemocrats.Wa.Gov)

Seizing on a historic moment for women challenging discrimination in the workplace, Washington state’s legislature passed the Equal Pay Opportunity Act on Wednesday. The bill passed both chambers on the eve of International Women’s Day.

The bill updates Washington’s existing gender pay law for the first time since it was enacted in 1943. It forbids employers from instituting policies that don’t allow workers to discuss their salaries with one another. The new bill also requires employers to provide the same career advancement opportunities to all employees in comparable positions, regardless of gender.

Washington state Rep. Tana Senn sponsored the bill and worked on its language with the technology industry. She lauded support from the Washington Technology Industry Association, Moz CEO Sara Bird, and others. Senn said Microsoft had some reservations about the section of the bill pertaining to career advancement opportunities, but the company was “very actively engaged in working with us on language around that and we got to a great place.”

Microsoft did not immediately respond to GeekWire’s request for comment.

In addition, Senn said, Amazon wanted to include language in the bill that “preempted” cities from passing additional pay equity policies.

“I couldn’t quite get what their fear was, their policy fear,” Senn said. “I just don’t understand how you preempt equality.”

Amazon did not respond to GeekWire’s requests for comment.

Senn noted that in other states, the next step toward closing the gender gap (after eliminating secrecy policies) is prohibiting employers from using past salary information to determine a new hire’s salary.

“Amazon recently adopted a national policy that they wouldn’t do that, that they would not use salary histories, so that was one of those things [where] I couldn’t quite get the actual concern,” she said.

But Amazon has been at odds with lawmakers in Seattle over issues including an employee head tax, which failed to pass last year but is now under consideration again. That tension could have made Amazon nervous about additional pay equity policies in its hometown. Senn said the company was concerned about a “patchwork” of laws in Washington state.

Still, Senn stressed that both Amazon and Microsoft were supportive of the pay equity concept as a whole, but had reservations about specifics of the bill. The final version of the bill did not include preemption language, as The Stranger’s Heidi Groover first reported.

The Seattle region has one of the biggest gender wage gaps in the country, according to a 2017 study that found women working in King County make 78.6 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. Senn believes the tech industry “is a big component of that.”

Michael Schutzler, CEO of the Washington Technology Industry Association, sees the bill’s passage as an opportunity to improve the state’s equity and recruiting edge.

“Anything we can do to make our state more attractive — especially to women in tech — is imperative for our economy to continue growing,” he said in a statement. “There is absolutely no reason a woman should earn less money than her male co-worker who does the exact same job.”

Now that the bill has cleared both chambers of the state legislature, it heads to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk to be signed.

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