Effort to Strengthen Equal Pay Protections in NJ Fails

One Republican senator said equal-pay bill demonstrated how white men were being ‘denigrated over and over again’

Credit: Martin Griff
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen)
Pay equity for women was on the state agenda yesterday, but despite watching millions of women march for respect and equality across the globe over the weekend, the state Senate chose not to heed their call.

The pay-equity measure up for a vote yesterday would push New Jersey’s anti-discrimination protections beyond what the federal government currently requires, giving workers the right to recoup back pay for their entire term of employment if discrimination is proven instead of only two years. It would also triple penalties for damages, and would force companies doing business with the state to provide detailed reports on their employees’ gender, race, job title and compensation.

But to advance the bill, an override of a conditional veto issued by Gov. Chris Christie was required — something that hasn’t occurred in his seven-year tenure due to the tight discipline of legislative Republicans. The override effort only required six votes from the GOP yesterday, but it won only two. Democrats vowed to keep the pressure up until the effort succeeds.

As well as coming on the heels of the widely attended marches in support of women’s rights in Washington D.C. and elsewhere, yesterday’s override attempt took place amid criticism of a Republican elected official in Atlantic County for a social media post that suggested attendees of the marches were still expected to get home in time to cook dinner.

And adding to the color of the day was outspoken Republican Sen. Mike Doherty of Warren County, who used the debate over equal pay to declare that he’s tired of white men as a group being portrayed as “the source of the problem.” He said the bill demonstrated how white men were being “denigrated over and over again.”

“It’s got to stop at some point,” Doherty said.

Christie, a second-term Republican and early supporter of President Donald Trump, vetoed the pay-equity legislation last year, citing concerns about stiff penalties and reporting regulations that companies could face in New Jersey if the tougher regulations were to be signed into law here.

Two Republicans in the Democratic-controlled Senate voted to buck the governor yesterday, but three Democrats were absent and several others GOP senators rejected the override attempt even though they had supported the bill when it first came before the Senate and won bipartisan support last year.

Now, Democratic leaders are promising to work in the coming weeks to win over the one additional Republican they’ll need to secure a successful override vote. But Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union) said his party will instead seek a compromise between the governor and the bill’s sponsors as they have on some other tough legislative issues in the past.

One of those who took part in the march in Washington, D.C. on Saturday was Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a prime sponsor of the pay-equity bill that was rejected by Christie in May 2016.

Weinberg (D-Bergen) said after failing to work out a compromise with Christie — who’s never had one of his vetoes successfully overridden by both houses of the Legislature since taking office in early 2010 — she pushed to have a vote taken yesterday. The vote was held even though three of her Democratic colleagues were absent, weakening the chances that the override would prevail yesterday.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) ultimately pulled it off the board before any votes were officially recorded. Doing so allows the override attempt to be posted again in the future. If it had prevailed, the override would still require approval in the Assembly, which is also controlled by Democrats.

“We’re going to keep the pressure up,” Sweeney said afterward. “This is a bill that’s important.”

Weinberg explained why she still wanted to post the bill for the override, saying it was to “get a sense of where people were coming from on the other side of the aisle.” Sens. Diane Allen (R-Burlington) and Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-Somerset) were the two Republicans who voted for the override. Allen, whose legislative district includes Mount Laurel, the ancestral home of famous suffragette Alice Paul, quoted Paul during the debate.

“(Paul) said, ‘There’s nothing complicated about ordinary equality,’” Allen said. “There it is.”

Still, four other Republicans, including Kean Jr., cast votes against the override even though they initially voted for the bill when it went before the Senate in February 2016, ultimately passing by a 28-4 margin. The measure passed the Assembly in a 54-14-6 vote in March, and Christie issued a conditional veto in May.

Kean Jr. said he decided to vote against the override attempt yesterday since Weinberg was still in the middle of negotiations on a compromise. He cited other compromises that have been reached between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate in recent years, including on open-space funding as a reason to give the pay-equity negotiations more time.

“We all have the common goal which is espoused by the bill,” Kean Jr. said. But Sweeney predicted Republicans like Kean Jr. would now have a difficult time going back justifying the reversal to their constituents.

“It’s going to be hard to explain, for people who voted for this bill — it’s the same bill — why they’re not voting (for it) now,” he said. “I think the issue touches a raw nerve. It really does.”

Weinberg also said she’s received little information during negotiations with Christie’s office that suggests he’s willing to bend much on the pay-equity issue to provide the compromise sought by Kean Jr.

Doherty and Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R-Morris), meanwhile, accused Weinberg during the floor debate of exaggerating the magnitude of pay discrimination in New Jersey. While she said women generally make 79 cents for every dollar earned by a man, citing statistics gathered by the National Women’s Law Center, Pennacchio said some media reports suggest that women actually earn 92 cents to every dollar for a man. Doherty also took issue with Weinberg comparing women’s pay, including that of African-American women, to the specific pay earned by white men.

“I have a mother, I have a wife, I have beautiful daughters-in-law and nieces. You know, at some point, I got to say it sort of hurts, it does, to be constantly told that you’re the source of the problem,” Doherty said.

“Just because I’m a member of a certain group it doesn’t mean I can be denigrated over and over again. It’s got to stop at some point,” Doherty went on to say.

Doherty’s comments came on the same day that Atlantic County Freeholder John Carman faced widespread criticism for posting a message on Facebook that asked “Will The Woman’s Protest Be Over In Time For Them To Cook Dinner?” It was later taken down from his page, according to a Philly.com report.

Weinberg condemned the Facebook post in a statement yesterday, and she encouraged women in Atlantic County to “attend the next freeholder meeting to let Mr. Carman know that not all women cook, but they probably do vote.”

In response to Doherty’s accusations on the Senate floor, Weinberg said she had “no intention of denigrating white men.”

“I was merely pointing out the statistics in pay differential,” she said. “I’m sorry if you find this uncomfortable, but I’m certainly not singling you out as a person.”

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