Reproduced with permission from Daily Labor Report, 124 DLR 12 (June 29, 2017). Copyright 2017 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.(800-372-1033) www.bna.com

"Cities, States Lead Way in Barring Salary History Queries"
Bloomberg BNA, Daily Labor Report, June 30, 2017

By Joyce E. Cutler

• Cities, states going after gender wage gap
• Local salary inquiry bans seek to fill federal void

June 30 — Equal pay advocates are turning to cities and states to close the earnings gap with measures barring employers from asking job applicants about their prior salaries.

The movement aims to implement--at the governmental level closest to where people work--policies and laws that prevent from the start of a worker’s career gender- and ethnicity-based earnings differences. The pay gaps can persist for decades, advocates say.

“Prohibiting the use of prior salary for setting pay has become a wave, not a shifting tide,” Equal Rights Advocates Executive Director Noreen Farrell told Bloomberg BNA. “This indeed is a movement with momentum, and cities and states across the country are watching closely.”

San Francisco is the latest location to approve a ban on salary history inquiries, with city supervisors June 27 approving a bill that applies to public and private employers.

“Unfortunately, whether it’s pay equity issues or many other major issues facing our country’s residents, nothing’s getting done in Washington, D.C., or the different state houses,” San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell, author of the city’s legislation, said June 28. “And it falls on the lap of local governments to make and enable” that change.

Attacking Wage Gap Where It Starts

National advocates have been working on the persistent problem of pay disparities facing women and people of color, said Berkeley, Calif., City Councilmember Sophie Hahn.

“I also think that we’ve known for a long time about these disparities and I think there was some kind of hope just knowing about it would change it. And sadly, that hasn’t worked,” Hahn told Bloomberg BNA.

“And it turns out that asking about salary history is one of those moments, one of those operational moments where those disparities are created and perpetuated,” Hahn said June 28.

Perpetuating Inequality

Gender- and race-based wage gaps have continued for more than 50 years after the Civil Rights Act’s passage, Bryan Schwartz, an Oakland, Calif., plaintiffs’ attorney, told Bloomberg BNA June 28.

The “insidious practice” of asking about prior salary “perpetuates pay inequity, by providing a supposed justification for paying women (and minorities) less than their similarly-situated comparators,” Schwartz said in an email. “It is wrong. Simply put--men and women, people of color and whites, should receive the same pay for work requiring the same skill, effort, and responsibility.”

Taking Control

“Cities are the laboratories of innovation and democracy--we should uplift, not stymie, grassroots policy experimentation,” Brooks Rainwater, director of the National League of Cities’ Center for City Solutions, told Bloomberg BNA in a June 29 email.

“We have also seen cities across the country--from Minneapolis to St. Louis to Santa Monica--pursue wage equality” through efforts like ordinances to raise the minimum wage and require paid leave, Rainwater said. “While there are many forward-looking efforts to build broader inclusiveness and create stronger economies in our cities, they are increasingly being thwarted by state preemption,” he said. “Currently, 27 states preempt local authority on minimum wage, and 21 preempt cities on paid leave.”

But states also are addressing the wage gap problem. Pay gap legislation is pending in 19 states, including California, New Jersey, and Texas, according to ERA. Massachusetts last July prohibited employers from asking applicants about salary history, and Delaware and Oregon this month barred the employer practice.

Berkeley Onboard

The Berkeley City Council asked city staff June 13 to draft legislation barring salary inquiries and to research how to give preference to city contractors that demonstrate equal pay practices. Hahn said he expects a bill to be returned for debate and tweaking within a year.

The federal courts and government are abdicating their roles to address discrimination or disparity, Hahn said. “So I think it’s a very important time, especially in a place like Berkeley, to stand up for what we believe in and make the changes here in our very own community. That’s what we can control, and we have an obligation to do in our own community what we hope will be done nationwide.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at JCutler@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright 2017, The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.