A proposed wage equality ordinance that would prohibit employers in Bethlehem from inquiring into a job candidate’s wage history has been sitting in the Bethlehem Human Relations Committee for over a year.
Bethlehem City Councilman Bryan Callahan proposed the ordinance in 2019 in an effort to prevent the perpetuation of wage inequality between men and women. If women experience wage discrimination beginning with their first job, it can continue when employers base their employees’ pay on their past wage.
City Council members Paige Van Wirt and Olga Negrón, both of whom sit on the Bethlehem Human Relations Committee, have expressed concerns that the small committee would not be able to handle high-profile discrimination cases. However, during the council’s Sept. 1 meeting, local leaders and proponents of the bill pointed out that this policy is long overdue.
The bill has gotten the attention of local leaders, including some at the county level.
“Don’t let that concern hold up doing the good thing,” said Lehigh County Commissioner Amy Zanelli. “The bigger issue we were seeing was that any time something new comes along, it can be scary … their committee was nervous that this big change in legislation would leave their little volunteer board overwhelmed.”
Zanelli is working on establishing a countywide human relations commission that would enforce the policy and oversee discrimination cases. She said the same is being done by her colleagues in Northampton County.
Bethlehem is split between Lehigh and Northampton counties, with the majority of the city falling in Northampton County.
Celeste Dee, who serves on the Lehigh County Democratic Party Executive Board, also spoke at the Sept. 1 council meeting.
She said she has worked in corporate roles for many years and watched her male counterparts make more money than her. She expressed disappointment toward the weak excuses for why such an important policy for women has not been passed yet.
“Women should lift each other up — empowered women empower women,” Dee said. “It should not matter who, what, or why this legislation has been put up.”
Callahan stated in his proposal that according to a United States Census Bureau 2015 report, in Pennsylvania, women are paid 79 cents for every dollar a man makes, and women of color are paid even less. Black women are paid 68 cents to the dollar paid to a man and Latinas only earn 56 cents to the dollar compared to a man.
In Bethlehem, where there is a high Latinx population, this wage equality ordinance is important, Callahan said.
“I cannot believe this is still an issue that we cannot come together and support,” said Carla Young, a Bethlehem resident, during a Sept. 1 City Council meeting.
Zanelli said another reason why the bill has not yet been passed is because the city council may not like who the sponsor is.
“Bryan Callahan did not seek the input of his female counterparts,” Zanelli said. “That left the bill with a poor taste for them, and those women also happen to be in control of the committee that would allow the bill to come forward. I just want to make sure that no one loses sight — no matter what is going on politically — of getting the good thing done.”
Once the issue is publicized and the policy is raised again in the committee by the council, Zanelli is confident the wage equality ordinance will be passed.
“I don’t think there is anyone sitting on council that is going to win their re-election campaign if they vote this down,” Zanelli said.