- Kelly O
- MAYOR ED MURRAY has a less than impressive commitment to gender pay equity at city hall.
That's a line from the Seattle City Council's staff memo about Mayor Ed Murray's proposed 2015-2016 budget, which the council is reviewing these days. It just keeps sticking out to me, since Murray liked to trash talk rival Mike McGinn on women's issues during the 2013 mayoral campaign.
Remember last summer, when the city's report on a 10 percent gender pay gap at city hall came out, and all of a sudden the mayor's race was awash in promises to fix the problem? Murray loved to dig at McGinn for somehow being responsible for that pay gap (example one, example two), even though it was clearly the result of decades of structural sexism. (They also battled over other issues related to women's health and equality, like domestic-violence funding.)
And sure, Murray's next budget does have some money set aside for city work on pay equity—but it's all just leftover money from the $1.4 million appropriated in McGinn's last budget as mayor. McGinn did that before his advisory task force had even started their meetings, because it was clear that whatever the outcome of new studies and an in-depth review of the pay gap, the solutions would cost money.*
I'm not the only one calling Murray out. At one of last week's budget meetings, Council Member Jean Godden, who's championed pay equity as her big priority, said she was "a bit disturbed about the fact that we don't seem to have any additional funding" other than what was set aside more than a year ago. Yes, this money will continue to pay three employees who work on pay equity and a handful of consultants. That's rad. But, she noted, there's nothing to address the issue of parental leave for city employees, which is Godden's newest big agenda item in the push for workplace equity. The council central staffer discussing this portion of the budget, Patricia Lee, said she thought it was because the consultant's studies weren't done yet. But two studies, one on "gender and race pay equity" and one on paid parental leave at the city, are due to be completed by the end of this year. What happens to those policy recommendations, which will undoubtedly have costs associated with them?
Lee said without finished studies, there's "no way to calculate the actual funding costs." But that seems silly if you look back just a year or so ago: McGinn saw this kind of thing coming when he was commissioning studies and a task force, and he budgeted accordingly so they could do real work when they were done studying. Murray and the council are right now enjoying the fruit of that budget decision, since they're still using that same appropriation of funds for two more years.
Asked for comment on why his budget doesn't add any new funding to work on issues like parental leave, mayoral spokesperson Jason Kelly says they're waiting on those studies and that "after the results come back, if there are policy options that include significant fiscal impact, the mayor will be prepared to ask the council for supplemental funding next year."
Which is great—yay! He's on the record saying he's prepared to get funding later. But he's also on the record saying something dumb, which is the "if" that begins that sentence. What do you mean "if"? "If" implementing a paid parental leave program for every city employee costs money? How could it not? Murray calls his budget a "moral document" that reflects the city's priorities. How does waiting to maybe fund something later demonstrate that addressing the wage gap is a high priority?
- City of Seattle
- This is how Mayor Murray proposes spending $1.4 million that former mayor Mike McGinn set aside to address gender pay equity. It amounts to three full-time staffers over three years, plus a few consultants.
Frankly, Murray has stumbled on this issue. The report Murray's office released on pay equity this year was months late and there hasn't been much action since. He's also seen his former spokesperson, Rosalind Brazel, file a discrimination claim with the city. Murray paid Brazel's replacement, a white man, $5,000 more per year than Brazel, a black woman. (Murray declined to comment further on the claim, but his statement in response to the claim actually contained the line, "Every major address I have given during my tenure as mayor has included a statement of my commitment to equity across this city." Because for some reason he thought saying "I talk about equity all the time" would be a good defense against the fact that he'd literally just paid a white guy more money than a black woman for doing the same job, in the same year. If anything, Kelly's job seems easier, since Murray also hired him a deputy press secretary at the same time—a luxury Brazel didn't have.)
It should be noted, to be fair, that Murray has succeeded hugely in one pay-equity arena: Given the gender breakdown of the low-wage workforce, the $15 minimum wage is a major win for women in particular. The mayor deserves a lot of credit for helping broker that.
But for someone who talked a big game on the campaign trail, Murray's commitment to pay equity once in office has been less than impressive. As Council Member Godden said in that budget meeting, "We've done such good beginning work [on pay equity]. I hate to see it lapse."
(*Look, I know exactly what some of you wanna say, which is some version of "ferchrissakes stop reliving the 2013 mayoral election." I'm not trying to rehash worthless stuff, I swear! That game is long over. But it's certainly funny what politicians end up looking like if you have a memory that goes back longer than a single year.)