On Thursday, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James announced that her bill banning employers from asking prospective employees about their salary histories would pass. She made the announcement at a roundtable discussion on the wage gap, featuring Chelsea Clinton, Katherine Siemionko, co-chair of New York City’s Women’s March, Alyson Silkowski of the Ms. Foundation, and 20-plus others in a large conference room at John Jay College.
James’s bill makes it illegal for businesses in both the public and private sectors from asking for salary histories from job applicants, and according to Thursday’s meeting, it could pass as soon as Wednesday of next week, one day after Equal Pay Day. “Being underpaid once should not condemn you to a lifetime of inequity,” James said in her opening remarks. “This bill is not a panacea, by no means,” she said, but she acknowledged how important it was as a starting point.
James has positioned herself as a fierce champion of women’s causes in the city (at a Planned Parenthood rally in January, she warmed up the snow-covered crowd with her rallying cry to never back down). She introduced the salary-history legislation in an effort to help women start their careers on a level playing field with men. Three months later, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order enforcing that ban on city organizations. At the time he said he “believed that we could move very quickly” in achieving the same measures in the private sector.
In the two-hour roundtable discussion, key issues that would contribute to and sustain further progress were considered. “We need to be teaching people in high school what their rights are,” Chelsea Clinton, who said in a recent interview with Variety that she is ‘obsessed’ with James, suggested. “We don’t teach civics in a way that feels relevant at all.” Daniela Nanau, an employment rights lawyer, noted that when she handles cases of pay discrimination, too many end in forced arbitration and settlements. “There is no public awareness of what these companies are doing.” This, she said, makes many people believe the gender pay gap is magical thinking.
Salary-history bans exist in Philadelphia and the entire state of Massachusetts, and legislation is being considered in California, too. As early as next week, if P.A. Tish James, self-described as “the troublemaker,” has her way, New York City could be next to join them.
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