Gov. Bullock executive action helps protect Montana workers

Jan 21, 2016

Montana Standard, January 21, 2016

This week, Governor Bullock announced an executive order, which renews and broadens the state employee nondiscrimination and harassment policy to be more inclusive of state workers. As we recognized Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday and continue to advance policies that promote greater social, racial, and economic justice, we commend Governor Bullock’s critical step in supporting workplace equality for all state employees and those employed by contracting companies.

The Governor’s executive order expands the state workplace policy to include discrimination or harassment based on gender identity or gender expression, pregnancy or childbirth, and military service or veteran status in the hiring of state employees. This executive order also applies to entities contracting with state agencies, so those companies must also comply with this nondiscrimination policy.

The Montana Budget and Policy Center has served as a state contractor to research the economic benefits of paid family leave for Montana families. As an entity that would be subject to this expanded workplace policy, we believe this is an important step to ensuring all workers are adequately protected.

Every day, people who are working hard to make ends meet are denied jobs or harassed at work, simply for being who they are. Discriminatory practices negatively impact workers and their families’ well-being, as well as harming businesses and the economy as a whole.

The wage gap between men and women in Montana can be attributed to a number of things, but we know discriminatory practices play a role in hurting women’s economic security. Nationally, evidence suggests that women and their families lose an average of $434,000 in income over their lifetimes, in part, because of workplace inequality.

The gender pay gap also has a significant impact on our entire economy. If women were compensated at the same rate as their male colleagues, we could cut the national poverty rate in half and inject hundreds of billions of dollars of income into our economy.

For businesses large and small, workplace discrimination can significantly harm bottom lines and reduce competitive advantage. When individuals remain working while facing harassment, research shows that their performance suffers, which impacts a business’ productivity, bottom-line, and ability to out-perform competitors. Hiring practices based on job-irrelevant characteristics force otherwise qualified workers into unemployment.

In the next 10 years, Montana will see over 130,000 workers retire, and new workers entering the labor force will not fill that gap. As Montana faces potential worker shortages, state agencies and employers should consider policies that will attract and retain skilled workers.

Combining nondiscrimination laws with other workplace policies like paid family and medical leave, fair scheduling, and fair pay laws is the best way to ensure that everyone in Montana has an equal opportunity to find and retain work, achieve a healthy work-life balance, and provide for themselves and their families.

Bullock’s executive action is a significant step in protecting Montana workers and enabling individuals to achieve economic security. In the future, we hope that Montana legislators will build on this momentum and support policies that continue to strengthen our families, businesses, and state economy.

-- Heather O’Loughlin is co-director of the Montana Budget and Policy Center, Helena.

Montana Budget & Policy Center

Shaping policy for a stronger Montana.

MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.