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We write in strong support of Senate Bill 158, the Montana Paycheck Fairness Act, which will be heard on Friday, Jan. 30 at 8 a.m. in the Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee.

Montana women make only 74 percent of what men do, a wage gap significantly larger than the national average of 78 percent, and change is overdue.

Nationally, the wage gap translates into about $11,608 per year, according to the National Women’s Law Center. To put that in perspective, consider what working families around our state could do with that money:

• Pay the median cost of rent and utilities for a year and a month with $400 to spare.

• Feed a household of four for a year and a half with more than $300 left over.

• Pay a year and six months of full-time preschool costs for a 4-year-old with more than $300 to spare.

• Make three years of student loan payments with more than $100 left over.

The Montana Paycheck Fairness Act aims to correct this problem by preventing employers from mandating workers keep their wages or salaries secret. Employees could no longer be punished or discriminated against for discussing their salaries or wages. This is important because Montana women continue to make less than men in every occupational category and across all industries.

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In a state in which women make up nearly half of the labor force and are the primary or sole breadwinner in nearly half of our families, we can’t afford to pay women less than what they are worth. By banning pay secrecy and creating a more level playing field, we can combat pay inequity. Women deserve to be paid fairly and equally for their work, and creating greater transparency in compensation is a big step toward a more fair and equal workplace.

Men are important allies in this struggle. None of us want our sisters, wives or daughters to experience the kind of discrimination equal pay champion Lilly Ledbetter experienced. Ledbetter lost thousands of dollars over her 25 years working at a Goodyear tire plant, simply because she was female and employees weren't allowed to talk about their pay. It took a secret informant writing her a note listing her pay as compared to her male coworkers to finally give Ledbetter the proof she needed to fight for what she was worth.

Montanans value honest, equal pay for a day’s work, so paycheck fairness is an issue that all of us, regardless of party affiliation, can get behind. Join us in contacting your legislator to let him or her know how important paycheck fairness is to you and your family.

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This opinion is signed by the following members of the advisory board of the Women’s Foundation of Montana: Mary Rutherford, president and CEO, Montana Community Foundation; Mary Craigle, Helena; Janice Munsell, Billings; Karen Smith, Helena; Caitlin Copple, Missoula; Kim Shappee, Missoula; Hillary Folkvord, Three Forks; Christina Barsky, Missoula; Lisa Grace, Bozeman; Kristina Davis, Great Falls; Gail Whiteman, Hays; and Jen Euell, program director, Women’s Foundation of Montana.

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