The State Worker

In California state government, women earn 80 cents on the dollar compared to men

State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, backs a law that empowers employees to challenge workplace pay disparities. It also prohibits businesses from paying women less than men for “substantially similar.”
State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, backs a law that empowers employees to challenge workplace pay disparities. It also prohibits businesses from paying women less than men for “substantially similar.” Sacramento Bee file

California’s path-breaking bid to end workplace pay disparities faces one of its widest gender wage gaps among the state’s own employees.

A new report from the California Department of Human Resources shows that women in the state workforce earn about 79.5 cents on the dollar compared to men.

That’s a greater disparity than the gender pay gap in both California’s private sector and in the federal workforce, according to the report.

Database: See state worker salaries

It’s also a touchy bargaining point in stalled labor negotiations for the state unions that represent workers in female-majority occupations a year after Gov. Jerry Brown signed an ambitious law that aims to shrink the gender wage gap across public and private workplaces.

The state workforce’s largest union, SEIU Local 1000, is one of the groups referencing the new law in its campaign for a bigger raise than the one Brown is offering. Two-thirds of its members are women. It represents nurses, administrative employees and a wide range of other state workers.

SEIU hasn’t been able to budge the Brown administration from its opening offer, while several male-dominated unions have scored better deals.

“You know what? The state has not been walking their talk” on shrinking the gender pay gap in state civil service, SEIU Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker said at a town hall meeting she held before she announced that the union would hold a strike authorization vote.

This year’s update on the gender wage gap among state employees showed a slight narrowing between 2013 and 2014. It shrank to 20.5 percent from 21 percent. In 1989, the gender pay gap stood at 25.8 percent for state employees.

By contrast, California’s statewide gender wage gap – public and private sector employees included – was 15.9 percent in 2014 percent, meaning women earn 84 cents on the dollar compared to men. In the federal civil service workforce, women earn 12 percent less than men.

The new Cal HR report does not directly compare the earnings of men and women in specific occupations.

Salaries for specific jobs are set in labor contracts and should be equal regardless of gender. A Bee investigation last year showed that female legislative employees in the Senate earned about 94 cents on the dollar compared to men.

Instead, the human resources report presents average salaries for all men and all women in the state workforce. Men have higher average salaries because they’re represented in greater numbers in the state’s best-paying jobs, such as California Highway Patrol officers, firefighters, engineers and attorneys.

“We don’t have a gender pay gap issue, in the sense that women in state service are being paid less than men for performing the same job,” said Katie Hagen, deputy director of operations for the state Human Resources Department. “We have a gender composition issue. For a variety of reasons, more men are employed in higher paying job classifications, while more women are employed in lower paying classifications.”

Comparing the gender pay gap

In 2014, the gender pay gap was more pronounced among California state government workers than the state and nation as a whole or among federal civil service workers.

Source: California Department of Human Resources

State officials want to address the gender wage gap by attracting more qualified female applicants into a broader variety of careers, such as by modernizing recruitment programs and by touting family-friendly benefits, such as flexible work schedules. It’s a long-range goal that centers on promotions and new hires.

It is limited in its outreach to women and minorities by Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot measure that prohibits public agencies from setting hiring preferences based on gender or race.

“The state must close the gender pay gap by applying inclusive talent management strategies to recruitment, selection and hiring, retention, and professional development efforts focused on bringing more women into higher-paying civil service careers,” the report says.

But some women in the state’s workforce want to see faster results.

“Thank you California for making these strong laws. Now lead by example and follow these laws you’ve been passing since the 1980s,” said Maia Downs, a state adoption services specialist in Southern California whose pay is stuck about $2,000 a month less than she could earn by moving to a similar position in local government for Los Angeles County.

She’s been making her case to lawmakers, urging them to follow through on the principles they advocated when they adopted the California Fair Pay Act last year.

The newest law, sponsored by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, empowers employees to challenge workplace pay disparities. It also prohibits businesses from paying women less than men for “substantially similar” work even if they have different job titles.

“The public sector, like the private sector, is not immune from bias and wage gaps,” Jackson said. “It is going to take a conscious effort to close those gaps in all our workforce.”

SEIU’s Walker contends the latest round of new labor contracts could exacerbate the pay gap. Male-majority unions representing attorneys, engineers and scientists negotiated 5 percent raises. The state is sticking to 3 percent with SEIU.

“It’s important for the state to try to set an example for others,” she said.

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