wallet with money

SAN FRANCISCO (WOMENSENEWS)–San Francisco is poised to take a decisive step toward bridging the gender wage gap Tuesday when the Board of Supervisors will take a final vote on legislation that would require city contractors with 20 or more employees to submit annual reports on employee pay to the city’s Human Rights Commission.

In the half century since the United States implemented the Equal Pay Act, women have made huge gains in workforce participation and prominence. Yet, they continue to lag when it comes to their paychecks, earning 78 cents for every dollar paid to men in the same roles.

The disparity is even more pronounced when it comes to African American and Hispanic women, who are paid 64 cents and 56 cents, respectively, for each dollar paid to their white, non-Hispanic counterparts, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

If the legislation is passed, the San Francisco confidential reports would include both gender and race data and the commission could choose to investigate in cases of perceived pay inequity and impose fines against those who are found to have engaged in wage discrimination.

The measure passed unanimously in the first round of voting, on Nov. 25, and is expected to be approved again. It would then go to Mayor Edwin Lee to be signed into law.

Supervisor David Campos, who introduced the legislation in September, says it speaks to the city’s larger divide between "the haves and have-nots."

"One of the sources of that inequality is the gap in how men and women are being paid," he said in a phone interview. "And the reason why this inequality has been able to exist is there isn’t a lot of transparency around the issue of pay."

Breaking Down Culture of Secrecy

During the Nov. 25 vote, Campos’ fellow supervisor Eric Mar said the legislation would strike a blow against "the culture of secrecy surrounding discrimination." He continued, "I think this will help look at institutionalized sexism and address it in an equal and equitable way."

For Ruth Silver Taube, the measure represents hope that future female workers will be spared the injustice she herself experienced as a production machinist in San Jose in the 1990s, when she says she was paid $3 less per hour than male employees doing the exact same work. She filed a grievance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found the company in violation of the Equal Pay Act, and today she is a lawyer specializing in workers’ rights and is a founding member of the Bay Area Equal Pay Collaborative.

Silver Taube took part in a rally at City Hall in September supporting Campos’ measure, and she sees it as a promising step toward increasing transparency and accountability when it comes to pay. "It will be a model for the country," she said in an interview with Women’s eNews.

In addition to uncovering wage disparities, the law would make San Francisco the first governmental entity to attach consequences for a company’s failure to comply with equal pay laws, Campos said.

The first batch of reports from employers would be due at the end of January 2016, allowing a newly established Equal Pay Advisory Board to spend the next year hammering out the details of the law’s implementation. Among other tasks, the board would examine what type of data collection system would be least burdensome to businesses while still effectively identifying wage discrimination.

Influence National Policy

Campos hopes to see San Francisco’s actions influence legislation far beyond the city. "This is an opportunity to make meaningful change locally and influence the policy nationally," he said, citing the city’s groundbreaking move in 1996 to require companies with which it does business to offer health and other benefits to the domestic partners of its employees.

Passage of the legislation comes as efforts to strengthen federal equal pay laws have stalled in Washington. In September, Senate Republicans blocked a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for sharing salary information with one another, strengthen penalties for pay discrimination and require employers to prove that wage gaps between men and women are based on factors other than gender. Opponents of the federal bill say it is too broad and could discourage employers from hiring women, out of fear of lawsuits.

Equal pay advocates say they hope the incoming Congress will take action where their predecessors did not. "Currently, no federal agencies systematically collect pay data from employers in the private sector," said Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center, in a phone interview. "It’s a real blind spot."

As they continue to push for nationwide change, Goss Graves and others are celebrating smaller-scale victories at the city and state levels. In addition to the San Francisco legislation, New Hampshire earlier this year passed a law that aims to strengthen equal pay protections.

"The power of information could really make a difference," Goss Graves said of the San Francisco measure, noting that the mandatory annual reports could reveal previously hidden trends, such as industries where wage gaps are especially prevalent. "We need a shift in the way we think about these pay disparities. They need to come into the light."