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SF proposal for gender pay equity sails through committee

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San Francisco legislators are considering legislation that would prohibit private employers, as well as city government employers and contractors, from asking for and considering past salary information when deciding what salary to offer applicants. (Courtesy photo)

Proposed San Francisco legislation aimed at helping women get equal pay moved a step closer to realization Wednesday, sailing through a board committee in less than 15 minutes.

The ordinance would prohibit private employers, as well as city government employers and contractors, from asking for and considering past salary information when deciding what salary to offer applicants.

The proposal swiftly got the stamp of approval from the Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee, and the full board is expected to consider it June 27.

“This is a popular piece of legislation, with many sponsors,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who chaired the meeting in the absence of Supervisor Jane Kim. Supervisors Katy Tang, Hillary Ronen, Malia Cohen and London Breed are already on board, and Peskin said he was adding himself to the list.

The idea behind the ordinance is to help ensure that employers don’t go by previous pay, and hopefully to empower women to negotiate higher pay, “leveling the playing field,” Supervisor Mark Farrell, who introduced the ordinance, said at the committee’s June 7 meeting. He was not present Wednesday.

SEE RELATED: SF to prohibit employers from asking for salary history to close gender wage gap

Nationally, women make 79 cents for each dollar earned by men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Women make slightly more in San Francisco, at 84 cents to every dollar. The gap is wider for women of color, with black women paid 60 cents on the dollar and Latina women 55 cents.

Basing wages in new jobs on those from former jobs perpetuates these inequalities, according to Farrell.

Four amendments were approved during Wednesday’s hearing, one of which tied voluntary disclosure to state law providing that if an employee chooses to share salary information, an employer still can’t use it to set a salary unless other considerations such as experience and education are relied upon.

“We support the legislation,” Emily Murase, director of The City’s Department on the Status of Women, said in an interview.

“At the current rate of change in the gender pay gap, it would take 70 to 80 years for a girl born today to reach gender parity,” Murase said. “It would take an African American born today around 100 years, a Latina about 200 years. We have to make the rate of change go faster.”

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce hasn’t taken an official position on the proposed legislation.

Farrell worked with employers and business groups to address concerns, according to Jim Lazarus, the chamber’s senior vice president of public policy.

“There were concerns over how employers could effectively implement the legislation. People want to do the right thing. Massachusetts has a [similar] law, New York passed one [recently], so we looked at best practices and made a number of proposals,” Lazarus said.

Many of the proposals were included, “so from an implementation point of view, we actually think we have a very good piece of legislation,” Lazarus said.

Lazarus noted the legislation, however, marks another potentially cumbersome mandate on employers.

“San Francisco employers are dealing with a minimum wage law, a paid sick leave law, a health spending law … and soon a wage parity law on how you question people, so it’s a difficult climate,” Lazarus said.

The proposed ordinance would go into effect in July 2018 and would be enforced by The City’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. For the first year, violations would only get a warning; beginning in July 2019, fines could be assessed beginning at $100, and in egregious cases the City Attorney’s Office would be able to bring a civil action against the employer.

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