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Business First: Equal pay policy approved by ECIDA

Reporter- Buffalo Business First

The Erie County Industrial Development Agency has approved a mandate requiring any company that receives tax breaks or incentives must pay female employees equal rates as their male counterparts, if both are doing the same job or holding the same position.While the 15 ECIDA directors who were at the meeting support the pay equity policy, questions were raised about how it may be enforced.

At issue is the clause the companies who receive tax breaks or incentives after Sept. 1 may be randomly audited to see if they comply with the new policy. The audit would most likely be part of routine reviews to make sure companies receiving incentives meet job-hiring or retention projections. Federal and state law already mandates pay equity standards.

"We will not tolerate discrimination against women," said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who has been championing the new policy for the past 15 months. "We know it exists."

The policy was approved by a 12-3 vote.

County research indicates there are instances where female workers are, sometimes, paid less than 80 cents on the same dollar that male workers are paid.

"Why shouldn't Erie County be the first one to say if you want a tax break, you better pay everyone equally," Poloncarz said.

The key issue for some IDA directors was not pay equity but how the policy will work and be enforced.

Concerns were raised about the random audits.

"Anything that creates uncertainty hurts," said Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, Buffalo Niagara Partnership president and CEO. "This is (economic development) death by one thousand cuts. We're trying to set the county up as being open for business, yet this policy just places an additional burden on the businesses we are trying to help."

The Partnership advocates for pay equity but Gallagher-Cohen said she is concerned the policy may make the region appear less business-friendly than other areas of the state or country.

Appearances and perceptions matter, she said.

"This is outside the scope of the IDA," said Erie County Legislator Edward Rath III. "The process is fundamentally flawed."

Rath, another pay equity supporter, said he hoped the policy would have been further reviewed before the vote took place.

Gallagher-Cohen, Rath and Dennis Elsenbeck, National Grid's regional executive, all voted against the policy — each citing concerns that it needed additional study.

"I support the theory, but I don't support the practice," Elsenbeck said.

Poloncarz said all existing projects in the IDA's pipeline are grandfathered. Only applications received after Sept. 1 will be subject.

The first audits, most likely, won't happen until late 2016 or early 2017.

Poloncarz thinks once the system is in place perhaps only four or five companies will be randomly audited annually.

"In the end, I don't think this will be an extra burden," Poloncarz said.

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