Providence’s Equal Pay Task Force holds first meeting

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A panel designed to review strategies for addressing the wage gap between male and female government employees in Providence met for the first time Wednesday, nearly five months after the City Council voted to create it.

The seven-member Providence Equal Pay Task Force named Celeste Terry-Lo its chairperson and Diya Das its vice chair at the meeting, according to Victor Morente a spokesperson for Mayor Jorge Elorza.

The task force was created at the urging of Ward 14 Councilman David Salvatore, who said he hopes it will be a “conversation starter that provides city officials with best practices, tools and resources to promote and enact equal pay for equal work in Providence.”

Salvatore cited an Economic Policy Institute report that found women who worked full-time and year-round in 2016 earned 20% less than their male counterparts as evidence for why the task force is necessary. He said Providence “should model the highest standards of wage equality.”

An Eyewitness News review of city payroll records from earlier this year shows just 27 of the 100 highest-paid non-school department employees in Providence were female. Salvatore said he wants to analyze data from all city departments as well as contractors.

The task force is expected to produce a report by the end of the year.

Salvatore, a Democrat who is openly considering challenging Elorza in a primary next year, has made the equal pay issue a top priority this year.

In September, he introduced an amendment to the city’s “unlawful employment practices” ordinance that would prohibit the city or contractors that work for the city from inquiring about a prospective employee’s compensation history or set an individual’s compensation based on their previous compensation.

The proposal would allow the city’s Human Relations Commission to investigate complaints against employers and recommend “potential legal action” to the city solicitor’s office.

“It is hard to believe that in the 21st Century, women are still struggling to earn equal pay in the workplace,” Salvatore said. “Since recent research has validated wage disparity between women and men, lawmakers should actively seek solutions to end workplace pay discrimination.”

Salvatore’s proposal is currently in front of the City Council Ordinance Committee.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan