A Casper lawmaker’s comments about women being undependable workers because they take long maternity leaves and too many sick days puts him at odds with some Republican colleagues in the Wyoming House – and could conflict with his party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump.
Republican Rep. Gerald Gay of Casper told Better Wyoming, a progressive advocacy group, and the Star-Tribune that women contribute to the gender-pay gap, which in Wyoming is among the biggest in the country. Gay said women workers cash in all unused sick days or burn every sick day available to “take Junior to the hospital or go see Johnny’s soccer game.”
The comments sparked an outcry that crossed party lines, both in the Equality State and throughout the country. The anger was exacerbated by news that Gay, who has a spinal injury, missed parts of every day of the most recent legislative session.
Gay said that his absences at the Wyoming Legislature were different because he was elected and women are hired. That argument failed to impress Rep. Rosie Berger, a Sheridan Republican who is No. 2 in GOP House leadership.
“Being elected to serve in the state Legislature IS being hired to do a job — a job on behalf of your entire community, no less,” Berger said in an email. “Men, women, Republicans, Democrats. Those with whom we agree, and those with whom we disagree.”
Berger said Gay’s comments are part of a larger trend in which politicians are making “inflammatory comments with no real backing that do nothing to tackle the real, significant challenges we face as a state.”
Gay, in an interview Friday, said his absences were more legitimate because he was sick. Other lawmakers have missed time in Cheyenne because they were on vacation, he said.
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” he said of his colleagues who have criticized him.
In previous interviews, Gay said he’s interviewed employers about women workers and has statistics based on their answers. Gay declined to specify the employers he’s talked to. His comments have been described as old-fashioned, sexist and out of touch with modern working parents.
Gay’s views on working women also appear different from those of presidential hopefuls Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, who both propose big changes they say will help working parents and the gender-pay gap.
On Tuesday, Trump unveiled a plan that would guarantee new mothers six weeks of paid maternity leave. He discussed incentives for employers who provide their workers child care. Previously, he’s proposed helping parents reduce child care costs by allowing them to fully deduct the average cost of care from their taxes. It’s a departure from traditional Republican orthodoxy, according to the Associated Press.
“We need working mothers to be fairly compensated for their work and to have access to affordable, quality child care for their kids,” Trump said in Pennsylvania. “These solutions must update laws passed more than half a century ago, when most women were still not in the labor force.”
Clinton also has a proposal that includes 12 weeks of paid paternity leave.
Gay called Trump’s plan excellent. The Star-Tribune asked the veteran lawmaker how he could support Trump’s plan yet say maternity leaves contribute to the gender-pay gap. He said the newspaper and Better Wyoming did a hatchet job when interviewing him on the issue. Better Wyoming’s interview is published online as a transcript.
He declined twice to further explain his views on working women and the wage disparity.
Rep. Tim Stubson of Casper, the third-ranking Republican in the House, said Gay speaks for himself on working women.
“I think if you look at some of the policies we adopted this Legislature – for example, we’ve supported grants to CLIMB Wyoming, which trains women for occupations, typically for higher wage occupations — that’s an acknowledgement of the wage gap and an attempt to bridge the gap,” he said.
Gay and leaders in his party have disagreed in the past. In March, Gay sued GOP legislative leadership, including Berger and Stubson, and some top Democrats over the Capitol reconstruction project.
Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff, R-Jackson, said Gay’s views of women workers have not matched her experience as a small-business owner for the past 30 years, during which she has employed over 1,000 people.
She currently owns Snake River Roasting Co. One employee shows up at 4 a.m., works for a while, then goes home to attend to her family, then returns to her job, which she cares about, Petroff said.
Petroff’s head roaster works a lot of evenings and weekends, when her husband is able to attend to the children. She’s able to meet her obligations and thrive at work, the legislator said.
Petroff said she offers flexibility to working parents. In return she receives loyalty, along with a talented and creative staff. And the company is growing.
“I want a candidate who is focused on solutions with the gender-wage gap, over statistics,” she said. “It should be something that will lift all employees and families.”
Gay was unimpressed.
“What did Ruth Ann ever do for the gender-wage gap?” he responded. “She was a committee chairman one or two terms.”