The State Worker

Women state workers earn less than men. New bill aims to close the gap

Female public employees would gain a new tool to push for raises under a bill submitted this week that would force state government to address gender-related disparities in pay among civil servants.

The proposal by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, takes aim at a persistent 20 percent disparity in the average wages earned by male state workers and their female counterparts in state government.

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

“As a state that prides itself on protecting the working-class, it is imperative that we continue our fight for equal pay within all levels and classifications of our government,” Cooper said in a news release.

Fixing the pay gap between male and female civil servants is complicated.

Labor contracts govern the wages state workers earn, and the rigid structure of those agreements means that people with identical job titles receive similar pay regardless of their gender. Some of the state’s highest-paying job categories are in fields dominated by men, such as California Highway Patrol officers, correctional officers and firefighters.

Service Employees International Union Local 1000, state government’s largest labor group, pointed to the wage gap last year while it bargained for its new contract. Two-thirds of the 95,000 workers it represents are women.

Officials from the state Human Resources Department last year told lawmakers that closing the wage gap would take 27 years. They’re working toward that goal by advertising jobs in such a way that women know they’re eligible for higher-paying careers in civil service.

Although women make up 46 percent of the state workforce, they account for 61 percent of new hires, according to Cal HR.

Cooper’s bill, Assembly Bill 1916, would try to speed things along by compelling Cal HR to study “substantially similar” job titles and consider raising salaries if certain classifications are underpaid. His office did not have an example on hand.

The effort follows a law Cooper wrote last year that allowed women in executive assignments at the Legislature and state government to press equal pay claims through lawsuits. Those employees are not represented by unions, and pay for those assignments can be more flexible than the merit- and seniority-based salaries that rank-and-file public employees earn.

Diane Shelton, a longtime employee at the state Legislature, sued the Assembly in November using the law Cooper wrote last year, alleging she was paid significantly less than a male colleague for doing substantially the same work.

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton. Sign up for state worker news alerts at sacbee.com/newsletters.

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