Mind the (Pay) Gap

A new law may ensure fairer salaries and wage negotiations between men and women.

(Courtesy photo)

In San Francisco, women make 84 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. Shockingly, this is above the national average, which is an abysmal 79 cents on the dollar. The national statistic is even grimmer for women of color: African-American women and Latinas make 60 cents and 55 cents to the dollar, respectively.

Supervisor Mark Farrell — and anyone else with a functioning moral compass — would like to see this gap closed.

In an effort to curb wage discrimination, Farrell introduced a “Pay Parity” bill at a Board of Supervisors Meeting earlier this month. If passed, the measure would ban employers in San Francisco from looking at past wages when determining salaries for new job applicants. It would also prohibit people from asking prior employers how much an applicant made at his or her last job without their expressed consent.

“My policy will enable fair salary and wage negotiations between applicants and employers while working to close the gender wage gap,” Farrell said. “Instead of relying on past information that may not be relevant, new job applicants will know that they will be paid based upon their experience and merits rather than just past wages.”

Farrell introduced the legislation on April 4, recognized since 1996 as Equal Pay Day, in order to raise awareness of the pay gap between men and women.

In 2015, the California state legislature passed a similar measure, but it was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who felt there wasn’t enough evidence supporting its efficacy. If adopted in San Francisco, the law could serve as a case study for another run at a statewide proposal.

Jess Montejano, a legislative aide in Farrell’s office, tells SF Weekly he doesn’t foresee any outright opposition to the law. But Jim Lazarus, vice president of public policy for the Chamber of Commerce, has voiced concerns, saying that effective hiring procedures can vary from job to job, and that he plans to work with Farrell and co-sponsor Supervisor Katy Tang in an effort to address what he sees are potential pitfalls to the legislation.

“Nobody is opposed to pay equity,” Lazarus says. “It’s the law of the land, and it’s certainly the law in California. We understand the concern that perhaps having prior wage history does color new job wage offers.

“There’s apparently some evidence to that,” he adds. “So we agree that the goal is a worthy one, but there are times when compensation history is important. Sometimes, an expeditious hiring practice can be impacted when you don’t share wage expectations because you might be applying to the wrong job.”

However, Jennifer Reisch, legal director at Equal Rights Advocates, tells SF Weekly that the proposal does leave room for some salary negotiation, and that it “will help to ensure that those negotiations are informed by the qualifications of the person and the job in question, rather than on an individual’s prior earnings, which may reflect widespread, longstanding, gender-based wage disparities in the labor market.”

New legislation is required to sit for at least 30 days after it’s introduced, and Montejano says that if “there are reasonable amendments we can make without gutting the core purpose of the policy, we’re all ears and keeping an open mind.”

While Reisch believes no single policy change will fix the gender-based wage-gap problem, she says this ordinance is a step in the right direction.

“Barring inquiries about prior salary also will encourage employers to base salary offers and other pay decisions on more transparent and objective criteria, such as the qualifications of each candidate, the actual requirements of the job, and how much a given position is worth to the employer,” Reisch says.

As the proposal is sponsored by Farrell and Tang, often seen as the two most conservative supervisors on the board, there’s a chance it could pass without much opposition. If that’s case, the measure could go into effect as soon as mid-July.

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