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'Wages' War in the House

March 06, 2001
By: Ben Paynter
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Claiming wage discrimination cost "working families" $3.1 billion last year, Missouri labor unions held a rally Tuesday to show support for a proposal that aims to guarantee equal pay for equal work.

Members of the AFL-CIO gathered to support legislation that would make it easier to file employment discrimination lawsuits in state court.

"This (bill) is for no discrimination whatsoever," said David Nuckols, vice president of the Kansas City branch of Communication Workers of America. Five other unions including the Missouri Federation of Teachers, and Missouri State Council of Machinists were at the rally to show support.

Women earned an average of 74 cents for every dollar earned by men in 1997, according to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics. Supporters of the "Missouri Equal Pay Act" said women lost about $149 each week because of this disparity.

"This is not a women's issue," Nuckols said after a rally in the Capitol rotunda. "It's how you feel about right or wrong."

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. John Hickey, D-St. Louis County, would apply to discrimination based on age, sex, race or national origin and disability.

Hickey said he hoped to expedite equal pay lawsuits, which often get tied up in federal court.

"To go to federal court is an onerous task," Hickey said. "Justice delayed is justice denied."

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce has come out in opposition to the bill, saying current discrimination law, particularly the ADA and state Human Rights Act, were sufficient.

"This is at best duplicative, at worst burdensome, time consuming and costly," said Kelly Gillespie, a spokesman for the business group. expand legal liability for companies, which could cost businesses tens-of-thousands of dollars in court fees.

Hickey said the House Labor Committee would consider such concerns.

"We are also looking for provisions to protect the small business guy from frivolous law suits," he said.

More than 40 states currently allow wage-based lawsuits to be filed in local court.