Bad day for working women

Republican lawmakers block four proposals that would help and protect working women, new families

Republican lawmakers on the House Employee Affairs Subcommittee rejected four bills that would improve working conditions for women and families in Tennessee—all in less than an hour.

Equal pay for equal work
The Tennessee Pay Equality Act, House Bill 216 sponsored by Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, District 55, would have created state policy to ensure the gender pay gap in Tennessee starts to close. Currently women in the Volunteer State earn about 81 cents to every dollar a man makes in a comparable position. That’s an annual wage gap of more than $8,000.

Paid family, medical leave
The Tennessee State Family Leave Act, House Bill 514 sponsored by Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, District 13, would have created an employee-funded public insurance program that workers could access to receive paid-time off for having a child, to care for a sick loved one or to recover from a debilitating illness. The fiscal review committee said the whole program could have been launched for less than a tenth of a percent of Tennessee’s annual gross domestic product.

Four hours off for parent-teacher conferences
House Bill 363, also sponsored by Rep. Johnson, would have guaranteed workers four hours of work leave each year, paid or unpaid, to attend their child’s school functions, such as a parent-teacher conferences.

Closing a sexual harassment loophole for freelance workers
House Bill 387, sponsored by Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Nashville, District 56, would have allowed freelance and independent contract workers to file sexual harassment claims against the people paying them for a service. Full-time employees have these protections.

Nashville singer-songwriter Bri Murphy testified during the hearing to her shocking experience as a contract worker in the music industry, where she said she’s been subjected a heinous amount of sexual harassment.

Republican members of the committee, though somewhat sympathetic to Murphy’s testimony, were more concerned with the legislation’s impact on the legal classification of contract workers in Tennessee.

In many committees, members have voted imperfect legislation through to full committee to work out legal kinks, but not for this sexual harassment measure. When it became clear the four Republican members of the committee were prepared to block this bill too, Rep. Freeman’s bill agreed to move the bill to “summer study” — a legislative limbo where a few bills emerge prepared to pass and most others die.

Watch the full discussion for each of these bills online.

How they voted:
House Bill 363, House Bill 514, House Bill 216;
All bills failed on a voice vote; Representatives voting No:
Rep. John Holsclaw, Jr., R-Elizabethton, District 4
Rep. Clark Boyd, R-Lebanon, District 46
Rep. Rush Bricken, R-Tullahoma, District 47
Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, District 97*

*Coley requested to be recorded as Yes on Tenn. Pay Equality Act