Casper lawmaker Gerald Gay came under fire this week after questioning the dependability of women workers, claiming they take every sick day they can and contribute to the pay disparity between men and women.
Gay made the comments during an interview with veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake, who works for left-leaning Better Wyoming, an education, advocacy and activism group. Better Wyoming posted a transcript of the interview Monday afternoon, and Facebook blew up with angry comments from women and men. Over 130 people shared the interview.
“I work my butt off,” one woman posted. “I do not take advantage of or cash in my sick time ever! I thought this was the Equality State!”
In recent years, Wyoming has had one of the worst pay gaps in the country, with women earning 69 cents to every dollar earned by men. The disparity is attributed to the different jobs men and women work, with men often holding higher-paying jobs in oil and mining and women more frequently working in the service industry. Discrimination is also believed to be a factor.
Drake asked Gay, a Republican, whether he believed there is a pay gap between the genders, and if he didn’t, how he would explain the differences in men’s and women’s wages. Drake also asked the lawmaker whether there was anything the Legislature can do to narrow the gap.
Gay, who represents House District 36, responded that women and men take time off differently.
“Women are always going to take their full maternity leave, and there’s the dependability issue about whether they’re going to show up for things,” he said.
Historically, Gay said, women tend to take every sick day available.
“They look at how many sick days you get in a year,” he said. “Say you get 12 sick days a year. If they go for two years and they’ve only taken three sick days, they’re going to cash in the remaining 21 sick days. That’s a gender thing and it hurts getting [the gender wage gap] rectified. Some of the misuses and abuses that go on there, and it’s predictable, it’s statistics that are written in stone. As long as you have people who behave differently on it between the two genders, it hurts the chances of getting that gender wage gap shrunk all the way down. We’ll make small progress on it, but they won’t make it [go away.]”
In an interview Tuesday with the Star-Tribune, Gay suggested women have a credibility problem.
“Women in the workforce traditionally take a disproportionate amount of their sick days off for other reasons than sick days,” he said. “They take Junior to the hospital or go see Johnny’s soccer game.”
He told the Star-Tribune the statistics that he mentioned in the interview with Drake were based on his own surveys of employers. He said he’s visited with employers and asked them about the pay gap. The feedback he’s received is that women are taking too many days off, hurting their earning potential. He declined to share which companies he’s talked to.
The Star-Tribune asked Gay how he could make allegations about women's absences and then justify his own attendance record at the Wyoming Legislature. Gay said he missed one whole day and parts of all the other days during the 2016 session.
“It’s a different thing,” he said. “You’re elected versus when you’re hired. I don’t have the best attendance record. I was in the hospital for part of the (time) when I was in the Legislature. I was in a long-term rehabilitation wing of a nursing home during the session.”
Gay had a spinal cord issue and couldn’t walk, he said. He had to miss parts of the session because a van shuttled him between the Jonah Business Center, the temporary home of the Legislature while the Wyoming Capitol is being renovated, and the nursing home. He tried to find more flexible transportation but could not, he said.
Gay said he didn’t think it was in the best interest of House District 36 to resign because a new lawmaker would be at a disadvantage, having to learn the processes of how bills becomes laws, among other institutional knowledge.
“Showing up is part of the thing,” he said. “But you’re voting on bills repeatedly. During the budget session, you do introduction votes, committee votes, first-reading votes, second-reading votes and third-reading votes.”
Gay believes the people who were angry at him are teachers and members of the Wyoming Education Association, since his Democratic challenger, Debbie Bovee, is a retired educator.
He said they are taking his comments out of context. The point he was trying to make was that government shouldn't interfere in the marketplace with policies aimed at the gap.
Bovee said when she read Gay’s gender-wage gap comments, “it kind of made my hair stand on end.”
“That attitude is kind of a '50s attitude, when a mom’s job was to stay at home, barefoot and pregnant,” she said. “I think it was insulting to women, and it just appalls me to think there’s somebody out there who thinks women aren’t dependable workers because they’re women. I’m not sure he ever looked at the fact that we have so many families where both of the husband and wife have to work. The cost of childcare is horrendous. They’re balancing trying to go to work, paying for child care.”
Lauren Bezold lives in Gay’s district but she said she will not vote for him. He doesn't understand working parents, she said.
“I’m a new mom. I have a six-month-old daughter,” said Bezold, who criticized Gay on Better Wyoming's Facebook page. “I think women are responsible for bearing and basically sustaining the population, as far as incubation goes and nurturing, for 10 months of our lives. To be treated by a state representative like that’s something that should be held against us is really, really deplorable.”
Bezold said women don’t get to choose whether to take maternity leave. Giving birth is a medical ordeal. The body needs to recover. Mom and baby need to bond.
Besides, most women forgo income during their maternity leave, she noted.
Bezold works in the tasting room at Backwards Distillery. She used to own a retail business and found that men and women take about the same amount of sick days.
She said Gay's contention that women take too many sick days is laughable.
“I think working moms take their jobs very seriously, and it’s a very, very fine balancing act that we do. I know me and my fellow working mothers don’t call in sick unless it’s mandatory. And we’ll put ourselves last. It’s only if our child is really sick and our husbands can’t do it. I find statements like that extremely misogynistic.”