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Kamala Harris Proposes New Gender Wage Gap Policy

Senator Kamala Harris, a Democratic presidential candidate, has proposed her plan to end the gender wage gap on a federal level.

Harris’ plan would require companies with over 100 employees to submit wage data every two years to obtain an “equal pay certification” proving that they’re paying men and women the same amount for the same type of work. Harris is also proposing other economic changes that affect women, like investing federal money into teacher pay.

This gender wage gap plan is different from the current legislation which requires the worker to report or sue their employer for any pay discrepancies.

The most recent studies on the gender wage gap show that women who work full time make about eighty cents for every dollar paid to a man, resulting in more than $400,000 in missed wages over a woman’s career. Women of racial minorities suffer far worse. Latinas, Native Americans, and black women all miss around $1 million in wages.

Any company that doesn’t meet the equal pay certification under Harris’ proposed law would be fined one percent of their profits for every one percent difference in pay between men and women. Should Congress fail to act on this, Harris proposes that these standards also apply to federal contractors, barring those who aren’t certified to compete for federal contracts estimated to be worth over $500,000. Funding from the fines would go to a federal paid family leave program.

“For too long, we’ve put the burden entirely on workers to hold corporations accountable for pay discrimination through costly lawsuits that are increasingly difficult to prove,” Harris said of her plan. “We’ve let corporations hide their wage gaps, but forced women to stand up in court just to get the pay they’ve earned.”

One percent of profits may not seem like a lot of money to large corporations, but a recurring failure to certify could seriously impact those same large companies. Besides proving they are paying their employees equally, under this proposed legislation, companies would also have to work at making the workplace more equitable. They wouldn’t be allowed to ask workers about previous salary history, eliminating forced arbitration requirements when dealing with pay discrimination, and providing data about the percentage of women in leadership roles within their company.

Harris’ plan isn’t foolproof, however. The proposed legislation doesn’t cover smaller companies that might face the same discrimination and to pass, it will require a lot of support from Congress.

Even so, the U.S. has been lagging behind other countries in terms of the gender wage gap, and Harris’ plan is very similar to one implemented in Iceland recently that fines companies who can’t prove equal pay. That kind of plan seems to work, according to a study of the 2006 Danish law that requires pay transparency for companies with 35 or more employees. There the pay gap was reduced by seven percent.

Whether or not Harris’ plan would work, her legislation brings attention to an issue that has plagued American women for years. This plan could be a step in the right direction for working women.

Featured Image by lukeharold on Flickr.

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