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Wage gap bill would pull back the curtain on CA salaries

Tracy O./Flickr Creative Commons

You and your co-worker do the same job. But do you earn the same salary?

Many women can't help but wonder. If a bill under consideration by state lawmakers becomes law, some eventually will be able to find out. 

AB 1209 would require businesses with 500 employees or more to tell the state what they pay their salaried employees, beginning in 2020. That data would later be posted on a searchable public website.

The wage data would not include the names of workers but would show the average salary by job type at each company, broken down by gender.

If the bill becomes law, it will be the first of its kind in the U.S. to pull back the curtain on salaries in general. The website would also allow employees of both genders to see if other companies pay more for the same work.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher (D-San Diego) told KPCC she sponsored the bill to give female workers the information they need to negotiate fairer pay.

"I think it will empower women to have the kind of information to challenge their pay scale, and that’s important because so often, especially in higher level positions it’s not a comfortable conversation," Gonzalez-Fletcher said.

Many studies and surveys, including Census data, show that women earn 80 percent of what men in comparable positions make, although it is difficult for women to know how they stack up in their own workplaces.

Gonzalez-Fletcher said she believes her bill would compel California companies to "course correct" any pay disparities before they had to start reporting their data to the state in 2020. She expects many workers would get raises.

The bill does have its critics.

Pay differentials are common among workers who share the same job title because each person comes in with different educational background and experience, said Ben Ebbink, a Sacramento attorney who helps companies comply with state regulations. Since those factors wouldn't be included in the proposed website, the wage data would be out of context, he said.

"The law really allows you to have lawful legitimate reasons for why you might pay two people different wages for doing similar work," said Ebbink. "[Employers] are going to have a website that shames [them] and says, 'You're a bad employer because you have pay disparities.'"

Gonzalez-Fletcher acknowledged that while some pay disparities exist for good reason, women deserve to have the conversation with their employer.

"If you have the data in front of you, you can at least question why," she said.

Ebbink said employers in more competitive industries like manufacturing are concerned the wage data could "lead to either an exodus of employees looking for greener pastures where they can get paid more, or ... you’ll have competitors coming in and trying to poach your good employees away by offering them a sweetheart deal." 

Still, Gonzales-Fletcher insists the transparency offered by her bill would benefit employees.

"We have managers at different companies who probably don't realize as a manager or senior manager that other  retail companies pay much more, or in restaurants or even law firms," she said.