In front of a few hundred backers crammed into the Governor’s Office media center, Gov. Phil Murphy took his first action as governor three hours after his swearing-in Tuesday: an executive order seeking to promote equal pay among state workers.

Under the order, which takes effect Feb. 1, no state agency or office can ask job applicants about their salary history or investigate their past wages until a conditional job offer is made. That is the policy in four states and some cities and seeks to close the gender wage gap.

“When a prospective employer asks a person’s salary history in an interview, they learn whether they can pay what that job is actually worth or what they can get away with,” Murphy said.

Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex, said wage discrimination starts early and many women never catch up.

“In the wage issue, our history becomes a chain around our ankles,” Gill said.

Murphy said New Jersey women who work full-time make 82 cents for every dollar a man is paid for the same work. He says gaps are even worse for minorities – 58 cents for black women, 43 cents for Latinas.

A first executive order is often used to send a message about a governor’s priorities. Chris Christie signed eight his first day as governor, the first of which froze all proposed regulations. Jon Corzine’s first expanded financial disclosures. Dick Codey’s created a task force on mental health.

Murphy said it was “not a coincidence” his focused on pay equity.

“Here and now we begin the process of bulldozing the roadblocks that have kept women from being paid fairly, that have kept many women of color from fulfilling their dreams of entering the middle class, and that have allowed our wage gap to persist,” Murphy said.

The order doesn’t create a new right for people to take action in court. Violations would be referred to the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations, which would investigation allegations and take remedial measures.

Murphy acknowledged the limits of an executive order but said it would “lead by example.” Further, he said he would sign a farther-reaching law from the Senate and Assembly.

Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden, said the Legislature will pass a bill allowing women who can prove pay discrimination to recover more than two years back pay, the limit under federal law. Gov. Chris Christie vetoed that proposal.

“We need women to be paid for what they’ve worked, OK, whether or not it was yesterday or whether or not it was five years ago,” Lampitt said.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said the bill would be taken up soon by the Legislature, after it takes up funding for women’s health programs.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, said he’s fine with an executive order setting state policy, although not necessarily with a bill he worries will set off “incredible litigation.”

“Everybody’s in favor of equal pay,” Bramnick said. “The problem with the last bill, it went back 20 to 30 years and inspired litigation that really put the burden on the employer.”

Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., R-Union, said he supports Murphy’s executive order and hopes for a bipartisan bill on pay equity. But Senator Joseph Pennacchio, R-Morris, said he worries Murphy will push the issue to a point it hurts the economy.

“I think he’s still posturing. He’s still campaigning,” Pennacchio said. “Last I saw, there was plenty of laws on the books regarding equal pay. Equal pay for equal work is one thing. But he’s probably going to take it a step beyond, which I fear he will, where equal pay for like work. Like is such a subjective word.”

Murphy said the pay gap is a drag on the economy that reduces women’s wages by a combined $32.5 billion, according to research from the National Partnership for Women and Families.

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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