Harris Pushes Equal-Pay Mandate for Corporations

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks at a town hall for the American Federation of Teachers in Detroit. (AP photo/Paul Sancya)

(CN) – U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California issued an ultimatum for corporate America on Monday: close the gender pay gap or give up profits to the federal government.

Laying another campaign plank, the presidential candidate wants to require corporations with more than 100 employees to prove that they are paying men and women equally for comparable work. The sweeping plan calls for fining corporations that fail to obtain an “equal pay certification” from regulators, along with barring them from talking about salary history during pre-employment interviews.  

The Democrat says her plan will give underpaid female employees another mediation route besides going through the courts.

“This plan will finally put the burden of ensuring equal pay on the corporations responsible for gender pay gaps, not the employees being discriminated against,” Harris said in a statement.

Monday’s announcement builds on Harris’ other economic campaign pledges, including raises for teachers nationwide and up to $6,000 per year in tax credits for middle class households.

Harris’ equal pay plan cites a recent report that found full-time female employees on average are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men. It also pegged annual median pay for women at $41,977 and $52,146 for men.

“On average, women employed full time in the United States lose a combined total of more than $900 billion every year due to the wage gap,” the National Partnership for Women & Families study states.

A separate study showed the average woman will lose over $400,000 over a 40-year career, a figure that rises to nearly $1 million for minority women.

Under Harris’ plan, corporations would have to be certified by the Employment Opportunity Commission every two years or faces fines of 1% of their average daily profits for each day they are found to have shortchanged female workers. Any money collected would be used to expand paid family and medical leave, the Harris campaign says.  

If the plan passes Congress, corporations will also have to display whether they are equal pay certified on the homepage of their websites. Corporations will also have to submit compliance reports that will be posted on the commission’s website.

Harris, 54, was born in Oakland to an Indian mother and a Jamaican father and served as district attorney for San Francisco and California attorney general before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016.

The former prosecutor kicked off her presidential campaign in Oakland this past January, promising to fight for the middle class and against President Donald Trump’s corporate “giveaways.” She piled up impressive first quarter fundraising totals – $12 million – and performed well in her first polls, rising to third among the Democratic candidates in a March CNN/SSRS poll.

After the fast start, Harris’ poll numbers waned to single digits among Democratic voters after former Vice President Joe Biden and ex-U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas entered the race. She’s headed to Iowa for campaign appearances on Wednesday and Thursday, her fourth time visiting the state since announcing her candidacy.

As for her equal pay push, Harris says she would use executive action as president if Congress shuns her ambitious proposal. Harris also wants to require corporations bidding on federal contracts of $500,000 or more to obtain the certification.

“We can finally ensure women earn the wages they deserve by forcing companies to step up, holding them accountable when they don’t, and committing as a nation to ending pay inequity once and for all,” Harris said of the plan, which she calls the first of its kind.

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