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ABQ to offer first-of-its-kind incentives on pay equity

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — City Hall will start providing incentives to companies that offer equal pay to their employees regardless of gender — an initiative that supporters say is the first of its kind at the municipal level.

An ordinance adopted by city councilors this week, at the request of Mayor Richard Berry, establishes a 5 percent preference in the evaluation process for businesses seeking a city contract.

The incentive will go to companies that show they pay women at least within 10 percent of what they pay men in comparable jobs.

The goal is to have no difference in pay, supporters said, but they wanted to set a realistic target that would encourage businesses to move toward it.

Martha Burk, an expert on gender pay equity and chairwoman of the task force that worked on the ordinance, said some businesses have no idea how far off their wages are.

“Some of it looks pretty bad,” she said. “We didn’t want to put the goal so far out of reach that they’d say there’s no way we can do this.”

The city estimates that its own wage disparity is about 7 percent, according to testimony before the council on Monday. National figures vary, but the White House estimates that women make about 23 percent less than their male counterparts, on average.

Burk said Albuquerque’s approach strikes a balance between encouraging pay equity without burdening businesses. There will be an online form for businesses to fill out.

The city’s Office of Diversity and Human Rights will issue a certificate to companies that meet the requirement, ensuring they get an extra 5 percent preference when the city evaluates bids and proposals.

“The initiative is the first of its kind in the United States at the city level,” Burk said. “It will serve as a national model.”

A bipartisan group sponsored the measure, including council Democrats Diane Gibson and Klarissa Peña and Berry and Councilor Brad Winter, both Republicans.

“After 52 years of federal regulations that have not proven to work,” Berry said in a written statement, “it is time we start incentivizing the result we want, which is gender pay equity in our city, state and nation. I am proud that our city is taking the lead on this important issue.”

Gibson said the city will evaluate the ordinance’s impact and determine whether the 10 percent deviation should be tightened.

“Why not zero? Obviously, that’s our goal,” Gibson said during a council meeting Monday. “There are a number of variables that could cause a genuine discrepancy — education, experience, time on the job. We’ll start it at 10 percent and look at it over time.”

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 made it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women, though studies show that men still make more than women for the same work.