Capitol Alert

California Senate gives 10 percent raises to 71 employees to close gender pay gap

Kevin de León is president pro tem of the state Senate, which recently provided 10 percent raises to some employees to shrink the gender pay gap.
Kevin de León is president pro tem of the state Senate, which recently provided 10 percent raises to some employees to shrink the gender pay gap.

Capping a yearlong assessment of pay equity among its ranks, the California Senate late last year gave 10 percent raises to 71 employees to shrink a lingering gap between what male and female employees earn.

The raises, which total about $602,000 annually, followed the passage of a 2015 law expanding California’s equal-pay protections and a Sacramento Bee investigation that found persistent gender inequities on the Capitol payroll.

Though the new law did not apply to the Legislature, Dan Reeves, chief of staff to Senate leader Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, said the Senate wanted to “show other businesses” that they could pay men and women equally for similar work and still “be successful.”

“It’s important for the Legislature to lead by example,” he said.

Senate Bill 385, by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, was signed in October 2015, expanding California law to require that women be paid the same as their male colleagues for doing “substantially similar,” and not just the same, work. It also created new protections for workers to compare wages and put the burden on employers who are sued to prove they were paying a female worker less for “legitimate reasons,” such as seniority or merit.

Shortly after the bill’s introduction, The Bee analyzed legislative payrolls and found that women who work for the Senate made 94 cents and women who work for the Assembly 92 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Those gaps are smaller than in state government more broadly, where female workers make 80 cents on the male dollar, and California as a whole, where it is 84 cents. But two distinct trends emerged: Women dominated lower-paid Capitol positions like executive secretary and committee assistant, and in higher-paid job categories, like chief of staff and chief consultant, men made more, on average, than women with the same title.

Reeves said the Senate Rules Committee ran its own analysis at the end of 2015 and found a smaller disparity – women made 96 cents on the dollar. Though confident that differences within job categories could be attributed to experience, he said the Senate still wanted to honor the objective of the law to close the gap.

Last spring, the committee conducted another assessment examining salary distributions across 22 job classifications with the largest number of staffers. The Senate ultimately gave raises to 58 women and 13 men who had been working at the Capitol for at least six years and were still making less than the average for their job title. Those raises kicked in at the end of November.

Jackson said she was pleased her bill had raised the consciousness about pay equity. The Senate raises, she said, demonstrated that some inequality is unintentional, but employers should still work to close those gaps.

“No one should be above having to comply,” Jackson said. She added that the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, of which she is a member, is planning to release guidelines on the law in coming months.

The Assembly did not pursue a similar course of targeted raises.

In a statement, spokesman Kevin Liao said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, “is committed to continuing to increase equity and advancement for women in the Assembly.” He said a salary analysis for August 2016 showed female Assembly staffers were paid 95 cents on the dollar compared with men, which had risen to 96 cents by January.

The California Legislative Women’s Caucus, which has made pay equity one of its central tenets, will continue to press for changes. Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, a Bell Gardens Democrat who chairs the caucus, said in a statement that its job is not done as long there is unequal pay, and that she would work with leadership to make the Legislature “an example of how to achieve gender equity.”

“Women who do the same work should be earning the same pay. It’s just that simple,” she said.

After all the Senate’s efforts, the raises only closed their gender pay gap by 1 cent on the dollar, Reeves said, demonstrating the challenges of addressing the issue.

“This pay gap is a stubborn thing,” he said.

But he expects it will continue to shrink by itself as more women are hired and move up into senior positions. And, Reeves added, the Senate will remain vigilant against backsliding by reviewing pay annually and implementing two new hiring policies.

All job openings are now posted publicly on the Senate’s website, in an effort to attract more diverse applicants.

Managers can also only hire employees into the first three of eight salary steps in a job classification. While chiefs of staffs and schedulers are exempted from that rule because of specialized demands of those jobs, Reeves said the rule should equalize pay over time as men and women enter the Legislature at roughly the same level and work their way up.

“You can get out of whack very fast if these new members place their own value on things,” he said.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff