By Tony Rodriguez and Cameron Salerno | Special to The OBSERVER
Senate Bill 1162, California’s new wage transparency law, seeks to fix the problem. It takes effect in the new year and requires businesses to post pay rates in job postings and keep track of pay averages.
Wage transparency is an essential step in tackling the issue of pay disparities among different genders and races, according to Sacramento State sociology professor and labor expert Charles Varano. Being transparent will shine light on injustices – though it may not immediately fix them.
“I often ask my students: do you guys talk about what you got on your tests with each other? So many will say no … they don’t let anyone see their bad grade,” Varano said. “So I think in many ways workers act that way, too.”
The new bill requires employers with 15 or more employees to disclose salary and pay rates in their job postings. It also will force many employers of 100 or more people to report to the state their employees’ mean and median pay.
“I’d rather have the problems that come with transparency than the problems that come without,” Varano said. “We want access to this kind of information because you don’t know there’s a problem to act upon until you see it.”
People typically don’t want other people to know how little they’re making or how much they’re making because it creates tension between them, Varano said. But it is a step in the right direction.
Siany Harts, 19, said pay transparency is relevant to her life as a young person and a woman of color.
“Minorities and women have been pointing [wage disparities] out for years,” said Harts, a Sacramento State student. “They’re not getting paid as much as their counterparts. It’s happening to this day.”
While she does see pay transparency as critical, she said the categorization of ethnic groups and gender may be too vague.
“It needs to be tailored. It can’t just be [focused on] how much women are getting paid,” Harts said. “It should show all sectors of people. For black people specifically, there are dark-skin, light-skin, full-black and mixed.”
Harts said some companies might promise something and then fail to follow through. She said she would prefer it if she knew how much all her coworkers make, but doesn’t feel that discussing social class among co-workers is always acceptable.
“I think it would make it harder on companies to find people [to work for them] because they have to be honest,” Harts said. “I think it would also hold them accountable.”
She described a moment when she asked her co-workers at her first job, where she served as a prep cook, how much they made.
“I asked one of the higher-ups, ’So what do you make hourly?’ and literally, the kitchen got quiet,” Harts said. “I think from that very moment … I was like, all right. That’s the policy. I don’t ask.”
Recent college graduate Luke Fratus said pay transparency is needed and already has been a factor in why he works where he does today.
“I think that all jobs should be required to post wage offerings on their job applications,” said Fratus, who lives in Sacramento. “Some people say that one should choose their profession based on what they love to do as opposed to how much money they’re making but in reality, everyone wants to obtain the most money they can.
“No person would willingly accept a position knowing that the wages they receive would not pay for basic bills, life necessities and outside entertainment.”
Fratus recently accepted a tech recruiter job but worked part time while in college at the University of Alabama to financially support himself.
Wage transparency from his new employer played a big factor in his taking on his current job.
“When I was on the job market, all of the companies that I applied to had their wages posted, or at the very least, a range,” Fratus said. “ I made sure to not apply to companies without it.”
Delis Boggs-Smith, a college student from Sacramento, said he worries that the law could cause the candidate pool for jobs to decrease.
However, Boggs-Smith said he still supports this bill because it would keep businesses honest and rightfully give employees fair pay.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, on average, Black workers are paid 73 cents on the dollar compared to White workers.
“When I was selling knives for Cutco, it was posted that I would receive a $15 base pay with commission,” Boggs-Smith said. “They mentioned that hours were flexible, which impacted my decision to work with them.”
Varano, the Sacramento State professor, said the bill could also lead to the formation of more unions.
“If I saw a wage disparity in my workplace, it would motivate me to organize a union to fight against that,” Varano said. “If workers knew that then they might [organize], and we’re in the midst of somewhat of a resurgence of labor organizing.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was produced by Sacramento State students led by Phillip Reese, assistant professor of journalism.