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The wage gap remains a generational thing.

But not for long, if Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, Sheila Hogan and Butte business leaders have their way.

With future generations of girls and women in mind, Cooney and about 20 others pledged to close Montana’s wage gap Monday at Headframe Spirits.

Women working full-time earn 74 percent of what a man in the same position earns, according to a 2014 Census Bureau report.

In Montana, that averages an annual salary of $31,696 for women, compared to $42,679 for men, Cooney said.

“We all know that 74 percent is not acceptable,” Cooney said. “If it were a grade, it’s definitely not passing. We owe it to all Montanans to make it 100 percent.”

Cooney kicked off a five-city tour Monday revealing Gov. Steve Bullock’s latest plan for a business-state partnership. He reported:

• The governor signed an executive order asking businesses large and small “to lead by example” and promote equal pay for equal work;

• A new website, where employers can file complaints and sign a pledge to close Montana’s wage gap;

• 1-844-550-FAIR, a new hotline to report wage discrimination.

“This is a movement,” said Hogan, a Butte native, and director of the state Department of Administration. “I think it will become a steamroller — it’s just a matter of time.”

Time is what younger women have more of as they enter the work force, as several attested.

State Rep. Pat Noonan, D-Butte, who’s running for Public Service Commission, said closing the wage gap is crucial for his children’s future:

“As the father of two daughters — a third-grader and a first-grader — who are growing up in a world that is far more tolerant and equal than any of us in this room have, I think it’s important that we want things equal as they grow up.”

Pam Haxby-Cote, Butte Local Development Center director, said without the task force, she would not have coached her daughter in negotiating for a higher wage in her first pharmacy job.

“I don’t think that we would have had that discussion but for what the lieutenant governor and the governor would have done,” said Haxby-Cote, a task force member.

With statewide Equal Pay Summits, entrepreneurial events, wage negotiation workshops, the task force has bolstered its mission.

The Montana Human Rights Bureau staff will monitor the hotline, as Montana law already prohibits wage discrimination based on gender, said Cooney.

Host Courtney McKee and State Rep. Edie McClafferty, D-Butte, both told how they cheated themselves of a full living wage when first partnering with their husbands in private business.

McKee said she paid herself only half of her husband’s wage. But now she is one of four women managers at Headframes and John McKee is the lone wolf.

“I valued my contribution differently than I valued John’s,” said Courtney McKee. “It took someone very smart to ... tell me I made the wrong decision. It was not only important for me to value myself in my role equally to my husband, but to make sure I valued myself and all our contributions and goals equally.”

The McKees, expanding the distillery, now make the same wage.

“We’re really proud to be a women-led organization,” added McKee. “We know that companies with women in the (leadership) seat perform better and that’s perhaps Headframe’s secret to success.”

McClafferty, a teacher, said when she worked for her husband’s glass company, she didn’t consider drawing a wage.

“I never even thought about it,” said McClafferty. “But how many women do that, help the family business, but don’t pay themselves?”

The Task Force asks businesses contracting with the state to agree to:

• Refrain from retaliating against employees who ask for wage information;

• Post a salary range when advertising open positions;

• Agree not to ask an employee’s wage history

Bullock will introduce the Paycheck Transparency Act to the 2017 Montana Legislature.

“The bill will require all Montana businesses to follow these practices when hiring,” Cooney added. “It will not only strengthen earning potential, but it will also open opportunities for a whole new generation of women in the work place.”

Bullock and Hogan founded the task force in 2014.

Meanwhile, young women in the work force are learning how to negotiate wages.

“It needs to happen,” said Noonan. “I want my daughters to know that they are as valuable as any other player in the work force. So being able to lead this so the next generation won’t have to come in and fight this fight is outstanding.”

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Education Reporter who also covers features at The Montana Standard, I am a Cascade-Ulm-Great Falls native. Originally a sports writer, I wrote for the Missoulian and the Great Falls Tribune. I freelanced for The Seattle Times and other NW publications.

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