City tackles gender wage gap with proposed ordinance

Joshua Jordan/Staff

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In an attempt to close the gender wage gap, the city of Berkeley is considering an ordinance that would restrict employers from asking for or considering past salary of an applicant in the hiring process.

Berkeley’s gender wage gap is even wider than the national average; whereas nationally, women earn 79 cents to the dollar that men earn, in Berkeley, women earn just 71 cents, according to the ordinance proposal. This disparity is even larger for women of color — black women are paid 63 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men — according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Councilmember Sophie Hahn, who co-authored the proposed referral to the Commission on the Status of Women and the Labor Commission, said banning prior salary considerations prevents past disparity from being perpetuated in the future.

“If a woman or person of color is originally hired in their first job at a wage that is disparate from a white male who is paid more with the same qualifications … that initial disparity is going to be carried through their entire career,” Hahn said.

The proposal is on the agenda for the City Council’s June 13 meeting. If approved, the referral will be sent to the Commission on the Status of Women and the Labor Commission, who will come back with a specific ordinance.

According to Hahn, this ordinance would be effective because it doesn’t import the past pay gap, and instead requires employers to base pay offers on objective criteria such as work experience, education, skills and other qualifications.

Berkeley is not the first to propose such an ordinance. In April, San Francisco supervisor Mark Farrell introduced a similar proposal. In addition, New York City and Massachusetts have already passed similar legislation.

Sarah Fleisch Fink, director of workplace policy and senior counsel at the National Partnership for Women and Families, has seen these kinds of proposals emerging all over the country.

“I think it’s one of a number of different solutions to the problem of there still being a wage gap in this country,” Fink said.

She referred to various research studies where men and women with identical credentials and resumes being screened for the same position were evaluated differently.

Other approaches to addressing the wage gap nationwide include pay transparency provisions and provisions that require employers to report their wage information, according to Fink.

Berkeley officially adopted the operative principles of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2012, which prohibit discrimination against women in employment.

According to ASUC Senator-elect Rizza Estacio, this ordinance would be another step in the right direction for pay equity. She added that she believes it is important for City Council to address the wage gap and gentrification happening in Berkeley.

“We pride ourselves in being a liberal and equitable city,” Estacio said.

Hahn sees no drawbacks to such an ordinance.

“I think employers have a very big stake in equity as well,” she said. “It helps them attract and retain the best workers and improves workplace culture and happiness.”

Contact Madeline Wells at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @madwellsdc.