Pittsburgh City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to support of the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus’s package of state legislative measures meant to improve women’s health, economic status and well-being.
“We are not talking about one issue. This isn’t just about reproductive rights. This is not just about equal pay,” said Councilman Dan Gilman, who introduced the Will of Council resolution. “This is about moving an agenda for Pennsylvania’s women forward, treating them as whole people, people who should be living longer, healthier, strong economic lives.”
Gilman was joined by State Rep. Erin Molchany (D-Allegheny) and Sen. Matt Smith (D-Allegheny) at a news conference Tuesday morning. Both Molchany and Smith are members of the Women’s Health Caucus.
“We need to really elevate the status of women,” Molchany said. “Women are the breadwinners, women are raising our families, women are in the workforce making a difference every day. This women’s health agenda is really about making sure Pennsylvania’s women are healthy on so many levels in terms of their physical health, their economic well-being, and their safety.”
Molchany is the primary sponsor for HB1890, which would update Pennsylvania’s Equal Pay Law of 1959 to include protections for employees who share wage information with co-workers and others. The bill would also tighten up the definition of what constitutes a “bona fide” reason for wage differences between employees.
Smith has introduced SB1209, which would require employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. The law would protect women who request permission to do things such as sit down during their shift or carry a water bottle with them while they work.
Smith said it is entirely possibly for companies to be financially successful and to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant women and working mothers.
“Hewlett Packard, Prudential, General Electric, Verizon, Bank of America, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson and Johnson: all of those companies hold spots on the both the 2013 Working Mother 100 Best Companies and the Fortune 500,” Smith said.
Smith said accommodations should also be made for women who need to pump breast milk while at work. HB1895 would achieve that end.
Sue Frietsche is a lawyer with the Women’s Law Project, and said the organization is currently representing a factory worker from Allegheny County “who was retaliated against for requesting a sanitary, private place to express breast milk.”
The current package of legislation also includes HB1796, which would bar municipalities from penalizing domestic violence victims for requesting emergency services. Some municipalities allow landlords to legally evict tenants after a certain number of 911 calls from the residence.
That bill passed the House, but it stalled in the Senate, due in large part to an amendment from Senate Republicans which would bar municipalities from enacting any laws concerning employee sick leave for private businesses.
Rep. Molchany and Sen. Smith said the Women’s Health Caucus has more legislation in the works, to be rolled out in two additional phases, likely in early May and late summer to early fall.
Additional legislative priorities for the caucus include eliminating the waiting list for childcare subsidies, requiring employers to provide paid leave for domestic and sexual abuse victims, and increasing Pennsylvania’s minimum wage.