Landrieu, Brossett take on wage gap for women with new initiatives

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Landrieu in 2012.
  • Landrieu in 2012.

In a Jan. 25 ceremony attended by pay equity advocates and outspoken women's rights champions State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson and State Rep. Helena Moreno, Mayor Mitch Landrieu signed an executive order designed to combat equal pay issues for women who are employees of the City of New Orleans. Though the order applies to just one segment of local working women, it speaks to a persistent regional problem: Louisiana is regularly recognized as the state with the largest pay gap for women, with women earning 65 cents on the dollar to men's earnings. The gap is larger for women of color, who earn as little as 48 cents on the dollar statewide.

Landrieu's order calls for a Civil Service Commission study to investigate gender disparity on its payrolls and bans questions about previous salary history during the interview and negotiation process for unclassified city positions, which do not have a pre-determined salary. This type of measure can help address the wage gap by allowing women who may have been underpaid by previous employers to negotiate based on their skills and assets, rather than on previous pay. (It should be noted that faulty negotiation at the point of hire is just one aspect of why women's pay hasn't caught up to men's; it doesn't fully explain the phenomenon.)

In a press release following the signing, Landrieu cited a Tulane University study that found female employees in Orleans Parish being paid just 79 percent of the wages of their male counterparts, adding up to a $9,567 loss in income each year. He called the wage gap "unacceptable."

"The income disparity affects a woman’s ability to buy a home, pay student loans and support her family. ... We must make the gender wage gap a priority," he said. 

Despite the relatively small scope of this particular order, action on the wage gap for city and other public sector employees could have special significance in closing the wage gap for women of color — public sector employment has long been seen as a path to the black middle class that has sometimes been imperiled since the Great Recession. A spokesperson for the mayor's office could not comment Wednesday on whether the administration has plans to pass any similar initiatives that would apply to the private sector.

On Thurs., Jan. 26, District D Councilmember Jared Brossett takes on the same issue when he introduces an ordinance to establish the Equal Pay Advisory Committee at that day's City Council meeting. According to a statement from Brossett's office, the committee would advise the Council on the wage gap, poverty and wage discrimination.

Brossett has worked on wage issues in the past; he co-authored 2013's "Equal Pay for Women Act" in Louisiana and spearheaded a City Council living wage ordinance banning companies that do business with the city from paying employees less than $10.55 per hour.

In his statement, Brossett praised Landrieu's order and spoke out against the wage gap.

"Pay inequality isn't just a women's issue, it's a family issue," he said. "From living wage to equal pay, I am committed to addressing wage discrimination and pay equity."

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