Equal pay for equal work

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, speaks with supporters of a bill that would require "equal pay for equal work" after a hearing where a vote on the measure was delayed. Maya T. Prabhu/Staff

COLUMBIA — When the men are in charge of the Statehouse, they control the clock.

And that's how time ran out on some of the state's female population Wednesday regarding a bill outlining equal pay for equal work.

Republican state Rep. Chris Murphy of North Charleston made a series of procedural moves designed to put off voting on a bill that could have taken working women a step closer to a guarantee of equal pay.

The key time was 10 a.m., when House floor session began.

State law does not allow legislative committees and subcommittees to take action on any bills while the House or Senate is in session.

So Murphy, chairman of a House Judiciary subcommittee, delayed a vote, according to some observers in the room, that would likely have gone in the women's favor.

Murphy said he was not purposely stalling a vote on the measure, which was expected to pass 3-2 had a vote been taken.

"This is not a bill that I'm comfortable with pushing through without being able to fully vet it," Murphy said afterward. "It is kind of wide sweeping legislation."

The bill, sponsored by Orangeburg Democrat Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, would give women legal recourse if they believed they were being paid less than a man who did the same work and had the same experience.

If a court were to find a woman had not been given an equal wage, an employer could have to restore unpaid wages, interest and attorney's fees, the bill states.

Murphy said he added the bill, H. 3599, to the agenda at Cobb-Hunter's request late last week, warning her that he might have to hold off on taking a vote so he could do more study.

However, Rep. John King, D-Rock Hill, requested a vote on the bill after hearing five people testify in support.

"I don't see what there is to think about when we're talking about equal pay for people of a different gender than a male," King said. "I prefer to move forward because I think the women of this state need to know where we, as members of this committee, stand."

King made the motion to vote on the bill at about 9:54 a.m. That, however, prompted a series of procedural steps from Murphy, including briefly moving to the next bill before coming back to H. 3599 when he attempted — and failed — to block King's request for a vote.

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The clock then struck 10 a.m. and the panel had to adjourn.

Erin McKee, president of the S.C. AFL-CIO, said South Carolina is one of four states that does not have an equal pay law.

"Most women today work and there are a lot of women, myself one of them, that are head of household," McKee said. "When women are paid less and are head of the household, many times they have to work two and three jobs. It hurts the entire family."

As the meeting ended, calls of "vote him out" were heard among the dozens of people in the hearing room who support the bill.

Cobb-Hunter calmed the crowd by reminding them the bill was not defeated and could still get a vote. Murphy said it was possible the bill could be heard again.

"What I would like to ask y'all to do is to see this as a reprieve," "Cobb-Hunter said, "to give us time to build support for the bill.

"There is work for us to do, and we got to do it."

Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.

Maya T. Prabhu covers the Statehouse from Columbia. She previously covered city government and other topics in South Carolina and Maryland. Maya has a bachelors in English from Spelman College and a masters in journalism from the University of Maryland.