Mass. Senate Struggles With Equal Pay Rollout
Three years ago this month, dozens of lawmakers crowded around Gov. Charlie Baker at the foot of the Grand Staircase in the State House to celebrate his signing of a new gender pay equity law.
The implementation on Beacon Hill, however, has been something less than triumphant, particularly in the state Senate where some staff have felt left out of the process of salary restructuring and believe inequities continue to exist.
The frustrations reached a boiling point last week when a former communications aide to Sen. Jamie Eldridge wrote a lengthy email to Senate Counsel Jennifer Miller, and copied all Senate staff, raising concerns about a lack of transparency in how Senate leaders went about reevaluating salaries.
Senate President Karen Spilka's office and Senate counsel have since tried to address the issue with senators and their chiefs of staff, but concerns remain.
The email from Peter Missouri, whose last day working in the Senate was Friday, was the capstone on an email chain that began in mid-June. The News Service recently obtained what several staffers confirmed to be a nearly complete copy of the chain.
In the email thread, multiple staffers tried unsuccessfully to obtain information about the pay restructuring from human resources and Senate counsel staff. Several Senate staff members say they've still never received an explanation of how or why salaries were adjusted for some staff last month.
Missouri, who left the Senate the same day he sent the email for a new job at the Muslim American political organizing group Jetpac, told the News Service when contacted that his email wasn't a "whimsical last day thing" or intended to "put anyone on blast."
"Sometimes we think about these things, but we just come in and do our jobs but we don't say them out loud. I wanted to say them out loud," Missouri said about his decision to send the email.
Missouri not only pointed out what he considered to be "glaring examples of unequal pay for equal work among Senate staff," but took issue with the lack of information made available to staff about how salary ranges were updated, and the lack of outreach to staff about how their work should be valued.
"Frankly, I just thought I needed to let them know in writing this is not okay," Missouri said in an interview. "It's concerning because there's massive inequality in general in society and it's rising and we talk about that a lot, especially on the Democrats side of things. So what do we do when we have an opportunity to review these salaries? We know we still have massive inequality between the chiefs and lower level staff."
'The careful work'
The law, which was intended to prevent pay discrimination based on gender for comparable work, allowed employers to take into account factors like work experience, education, job training, or measurements of production when setting salaries.
The Senate counsel's office collected resumes and job descriptions from all employees to compare duties and pay, and raised the minimum salary to $43,000 a year, a pay bump for some employees.
"Pay equity has been and continues to be a priority of the Senate. The Legislature did not exempt itself from the Equal Pay Act, and the Senate has done the careful work of bringing the body into compliance," said Sarah Blodgett, the spokeswoman for Senate President Karen Spilka.
The law requires only that progress be made toward equity, according to officials, who said the review was complicated by decades of payroll and hiring decisions that could not simply be overturned. Employees were evaluated based on their job responsibilities, not necessarily their titles.
"Starting in the summer of 2018, the Senate's pay equity compliance work was discussed in a series of meetings with both Senators and Chiefs of Staff, with the expectation that managers in each office would share that information with staff," Blodgett said.
Under the old pay system, senators were given a pot of money to distribute to staff as they saw fit. But now, pay is controlled more centrally, similar to how it's handled in the House.
Missouri said he never considered pay equity to be a problem in Eldridge's office while he worked there. "No, not at all. Prior to this, we were all pretty even because our chief and Senator Eldridge cared about this a lot," Missouri said, explaining that he notified his now former boss about the email Friday after it was sent.
Eldridge said he has been hearing from staff members with questions about the salary adjustments, and has spoken with the Senate president's staff about the email chain. The Acton Democrat said the review resulted in a raise for most of his staff, but also acknowledged that the process of setting expectations for how salaries will be determined is still ongoing.
"I think it's natural any time you're making a shift there is going to be frustration over salaries, because we all know every single staffer goes online and checks out how their salaries compare to the person next door. I think there is frustration, but I do think the Senate president and her staff has been very committed to raising salaries and doing a review of the Equal Pay Law," Eldridge said.
The email chain started back in June with a note from Senate Payroll Coordinator Paige Jones about State House seminars for employees about saving for retirement.
Ryan Migeed, communications director to Sen. Eric Lesser, responded to the message with an email that went to all Senate staff inquiring about when employees could expect to receive information about new pay scales that were being established under the 2016 equal pay law.
A month and a half later, Migeed sent another email on Aug. 1 asking if work on the new pay ranges had been completed, and if staff would be receiving notice in writing about how the changes were arrived at. He indicated that some staffers had seen changes in their pay already.
On the same day Migeed sent his second email, Matthew Amato, the director of budget and policy for Sen. Paul Feeney, replied to everyone stating that his salary had not been adjusted.
"I didn't see any changes in pay and frankly have no idea what changes were made or what the process was in the first place," Amato wrote. He said he didn't know to whom he should be directing his questions.
The Senate president's office said each senator had a formal meeting at the conclusion of the process and they were told how much each of their staffers would receive, with the expectation being that the information would be shared with staff.
Amato did not respond to an email seeking comment, and Migeed declined to be interviewed. Migeed is leaving the Senate on Friday for law school.
Missouri wrote in his email that he knew of two chiefs of staff with the same educational background, work experience, responsibilities and title; however the man was paid $10,000 more than the woman.
"How did you decide that the man was more valuable?" he wrote.
Missouri said he discovered the discrepancy by researching staff salaries on the state's public payroll database, and comparing resumes available through sites like LinkedIn. The example he referenced is well known among other staffers.
"There was no rationale behind it, they didn't give us any metric they were basing it on. And we're the people who were behind this, the Senate, who wrote this law," Missouri said. He said he knew of "many other examples" of staffers getting paid varied salaries for similar work.
The News Service was able to independently verify the two chiefs of staff to whom Missouri was referring in his email, but both declined to comment. Senate officials said they could not discuss confidential personnel matters, but said that standardized pay scales and job title descriptions had not yet been set and would be part of the second phase of salary reviews.
Eldridge said that communication with staff could be improved, and he intends to sit down with his team to get their feelings about salaries as well as workplace culture.
"While there was communication to senators in a caucus, that doesn't necessarily mean that was clearly communicated to all staff, so what you have is there were different levels of information disclosed across the Senate and I do think that needs to be improved, and that's a comment on all of us as senators," he said.
Missouri said he felt like he needed to stand up for his former colleagues because they are talented and deserve to have a say in how they are compensated for their work.
"The majority of senators, including everyone in leadership, proudly stand with labor when they strike for fair pay and better work conditions," Missouri said. "It would be consistent with these actions to treat Senate staff with the same regard."
This report was originally published by State House News Service.