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Governor's Equal Pay Task Force Releases Final Report

Gov. Steve Bullock’s Equal Pay for Equal Work Montana task force, aimed at narrowing the gender wage gap, released its final report Wednesday.

The task force’s final report, released as Bullock prepares to leave office, encourages more women to pursue jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and to learn effective wage negotiation strategies. It also recommends employers engage in fair hiring policies and offer childcare solutions and paid family leave.

Bullock created the task force in his first year in office. In the seven years since, the group reports that the median earnings of Montana women have increased from 68.4 to 73.2 percent of the median earnings of men in the state. The gap narrowed more in Montana than nationwide in that time, though the wage gap in Montana is still wider than seen nationally. 

Montana Department of Labor and Industry Chief Economist Barb Wagner is a staff member of the task force. She says it’s hard to know for sure, but the timing of the increase suggests the task force had a positive impact. 

"But, it’s a long-term problem, so that has to be taken in context."

The task force has held three conferences along with other events to raise awareness, and proposed legislation designed to narrow the gender pay gap in Montana. It proposed a bill in 2015 to remove limits on unemployment benefits that created obstacles for survivors of domestic abuse, sexual assault and stalking. That bill was passed. A policy supported by Bullock and the task force, to require employers to post a salary range when advertising a position, and to prohibit asking about an employee’s wage history in the hiring process, failed to pass in multiple legislative sessions.

The governor extended the task force through 2022, but Governor-elect Greg Gianforte has yet to disclose his plans for it. 

A spokesperson for Gianforte said, "The task force Greg is most focused on right now is the one he assembled to confront the COVID-19 pandemic." The spokesperson also said Gianforte would bring the same approach of recruiting and retaining the best employees, regardless of gender, to the governor’s office and state agencies.

While there is no state-level data showing the wage gap for Native American women, the National Partnership for Women and Families says Native American women are paid 60 cents to every dollar white, non-hispanic men are paid in the U.S.

Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Councilmember and task force member Carole Lankford said, “They reached out to tribal leaders, which was a good first step.” She also said that the group’s effort to collect economic data had a positive impact, as economic data for Montana’s reservations is scarce.

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