Indian-American Senator Kamala Harris vows to fine companies with gender pay gaps


LOS ANGELES – Sen. Kamala D. Harris on Monday announced a plan to force corporations to pay women as much as men for comparable work, promising to go further on that issue as president than any of her competition for the Democratic nomination.

Kamala Harris at Women’s March 2017 (Photo Facebook)

The method proposed by the U.S. senator from California and the target audience for the plan were similar to her past proposals. Like Harris’s plan for more stringent gun controls, it relies on Harris taking executive action as president if Congress declines to act. And, like Harris’s promise of federal investment in teacher salaries, it largely affects women, a group she has courted throughout her campaign.

Studies show that American women overall make 80 cents for every dollar paid to men. For African American and Latino women, the number is closer to 60 cents on the dollar. Statistics on comparable jobs vary.

“When you lift up the economic status of women, you lift up their families, their neighborhoods, and all of society,” Harris said, after telling voters at a Los Angeles rally Sunday that she would soon announce the plan. “And it’s an issue that’s been around for far too long without much progress at all.”

If elected, Harris said, she would require all corporations to receive “Equal Pay Certification” from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. To receive the certification, companies would have to prove they are paying employees comparable pay for comparable work, regardless of gender. Companies would also be required to provide data about hiring processes, including information about the race and gender of their workforce.

According to Harris’s plan, the EEOC would be required to fine all companies that do not receive the certification – 1 percent of profits for every 1 percent of wage gap that exists after accounting for differences in job title, experience and performance. The government would use the money collected through the fines to help finance universal paid family and medical leave. Lack of adequate paid leave, the campaign argues, contributes to the wage gap and prevents women from earning as much as men over their lifetimes.

Harris is not the only member of the Democratic field to promise action on equal pay initiatives, though she is the only one to announce a plan that she argues would succeed without Congress’s help.

Along with Harris, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., co-sponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act, which passed the House this session and attempts to close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Gillibrand also has introduced legislation that would establish the Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave within the Social Security Administration and create family leave and medical insurance payments. Both Harris and Gillibrand see a lack of paid family leave as a key factor in the lingering gender pay gap, and a key component of closing it.

Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, Seth Moulton, D-Mass., Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., also co-sponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Sanders includes equal pay as part of a 12-point economic agenda, although his 2016 presidential campaign has been hit by accusations of gender discrimination and pay disparities. Booker, Klobuchar and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg also have spoken out against pay inequity.

Harris’s plan extends not only beyond the promises of her fellow candidates but also beyond then-President Barack Obama’s effort to address pay equity through executive action in 2016.

Obama required companies employing more than 100 people to supply the EEOC with pay data by gender, race and ethnicity, and called on Congress to support the Paycheck Fairness Act. The first bill Obama signed as president, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, expanded the rights of women to sue for equal pay.

The Harris campaign announced its plan as the 2020 candidates objected angrily to a wave of strict antiabortion laws passed around the country. Harris’s campaign used its fundraising email list to raise more than $200,000 for groups dedicated to women’s reproductive rights, then sent an email trying to fundraise for the campaign off the efforts.



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