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Emanuel hails ‘significant step’ toward closing gender pay gap

City Clerk Anna Valencia emphasized the increased wage gap for women of color in Illinois at an Equal Pay Day rally.

City Clerk Anna Valencia emphasized the increased wage gap for women of color in Illinois at an Equal Pay Day rally.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday marked the 22nd anniversary of Equal Pay Day by taking what he called a “significant step” toward closing the salary gap between men and women on the city payroll.

The mayor signed an executive order prohibiting members of his cabinet from asking job applicants what they were paid on their previous jobs or making similar inquiries to the prior employers of job applicants.

“Equality in pay between men and women has been a problem in the United States for too long,” Emanuel was quoted as saying in a press release. “By signing this executive order, we are taking action to say that this practice has no place in our city and taking a significant step towards closing the gender pay gap.”

Human Resources Commissioner Soo Choi applauded the mayor for “taking the lead on addressing the gender wage gap issue” still holding women back, even as they enter the workforce in greater numbers.

“Prohibiting city departments from asking job applicants about salary history during the hiring process eliminates the possibility of basing wages on a worker’s previous pay and continuing the cycle of wage inequality,” Choi was quoted as saying.

Although Illinois women now comprise nearly half of the state’s overall workforce, they still earn, on average, only 79 percent of their male counterparts’ wages. Black and Hispanic women earn even less.

Basing a woman’s salary on what she was paid before merely “perpetuates” that gap, officials said.

Emanuel’s executive order prohibits city departments from either asking applicants what they were paid on previous jobs or seeking that salary history from current and former employers. Nor can they require that a candidate’s prior hourly wages, annual salary, benefits or other compensation “satisfy minimum or maximum criteria.”

The mayor is also asking local government agencies run by his appointees — including the Chicago Public Schools, the CTA, the CHA and the Park District — to take similar action.

Earlier this week, a federal appeals court panel in San Francisco ruled that basing the pay of new employees on past salary is “wholly inconsistent with” the federal Equal Pay Act.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote a sharply-worded opinion that applies to nine Western states before he died last month.

Although the federal law was approved in 1963, Reinhardt concluded that the “financial exploitation of working women embodied by the gender pay gap continues to be an embarrassing reality of our economy.”

Here in Illinois, a bill prohibiting employers from asking job applicants or prior employers about their wage and salary histories was approved by the General Assembly last year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Proponents tried again this year and succeeded in muscling the bill through the Illinois House of Representatives.

But a watered-down version has also been introduced that would allow companies to escape fines if they can demonstrate they’re making a good faith effort to close the gap between men and women. That weaker version faces opposition from women’s advocates.

According to the latest Pew Research analysis of median hourly earnings, women across the nation earn just 82 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts.

By doing his small part to close that gap, Emanuel is currying favor with women, an important voting bloc whose support he needs to win a third term.

At the Daley Plaza on Tuesday, women leaders in Chicago rallied to mark the amount of time a woman would have to work to close the pay gap.

“After working for 15 months, women finally come even with hat men earned in the previous year,” Chicago Equal Pay Day Committee Chair Barbara Yong said.

Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia emphasized the greater disparities for women of color. She laid out that, in Illinois, for every dollar paid to a white man, Asian American women are paid 86 cents, black women are paid 63 cents, and Latina women are paid 48 cents.

“As a woman, as a Latina, and a public servant, and the only citywide woman elected, I am committed to fighting to close this gap,” Valencia said.

Valencia urged the audience of mostly women to call lawmakers in support of the bill that was vetoed by Rauner.

Contributing: Alex Arriaga