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Labor officials discuss how how to protect Mississippi's workforce
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A panel of experts and U.S. Dept. of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh discuss what could be done to protect Mississippi workers.
Kobee Vance, MPB News

National leaders are touring Mississippi to speak with local unions and community groups about the issues workers are facing across the state. Advocates say the state’s minimum wage, pay gaps and lack of job security hurt the state’s workforce.

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Mississippi is one of several states that limits the right to unionize, with laws that allow employers to terminate someone at any time. The state also does not have a Department of Labor, and Secretary Marty Walsh with the US. Department of Labor says that places his office as the closest governing body. He is speaking with workers' rights groups across the state about the hurdles facing Mississippi’s workforce.

“Hopefully, working supporting people, continuing to fight for wage equity, gender equity, pay equity, and other issue pay equity,” says Walsh. “In this country, the fact that we pay women less than men, and make excuses for whey we do that, that’s just wrong. It’s 2022, it’s time to whatever job a man has and a woman does the same exact job, she would be paid the same exact rate.”

This year, lawmakers passed the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act which could reduce the state’s gender wage gap. The law goes into effect today, however advocates say the bill has language that could undermine the intent of the legislation. Cassandra Welchlin with the Mississippi Black Women’s Round Table, shared her concerns during a discussion with the Department of Labor.

“It codifies into law that an employer can pay a woman less based on her salary history, and what we know is that women carry their salary history from one job to the next job and it’s still based on discrimination,” says Welchlin. “Secondly, it will discriminate against a woman based on her employment gaps. Hello, we’re still in COVID and we know that women had to leave the workforce to take care of their children.”

Officials say this visit is part of a national effort to better understand rural workforces, and how the nation can improve working conditions.