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Hazel Erby

Hazel Erby, St. Louis County Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, speaks at a press conference commemorating an executive order aimed at improving pay equity on June 4, 2019 at the county executive's office. Next to her is St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and Lisa Picker, Executive Director of the Women's Foundation of Greater St. Louis. Photo by Annika Merrilees amerrilees@post-dispatch.com

CLAYTON — County Executive Sam Page signed an executive order Tuesday that he said moves county government toward pay equity for women and racial minorities. He also announced the creation of a task force to improve working conditions for female county employees.

The executive order, which Page signed at a news conference, bans inquiries into and reliance on salary history for setting pay rates for new hires.

Barring the use of salary history in setting pay for new workers would be a way to avoid pay disparities based on gender, race and other factors, he said.

“As an employer, St. Louis County must take the lead,” Page said.

In a memo, Page wrote that the starting wage in some county jobs is $8.84 per hour, “which is below what is considered to be a living wage and which seems to disproportionately impact women, particularly women of color.” A preliminary review suggested that women make up a disproportionately large number of the county’s lowest-paid employees, and a disproportionately small number of its highest-paid employees, the memo said.

“By asking prospective employees their current or past salary, an employer can unintentionally lock an employee into an already-existing pay disparity. And that has to end,” Page said.

The new task force will look into the costs of potential policies such as establishing paid family leave, supporting child care options for county employees, supporting child care options for members of the public so they can attend county meetings, conducting gender wage gap analysis and raising the minimum wage for county employees to $15 per hour.

St. Louis County currently does not have paid family leave, Page said. Alternatively, he said, employees save up paid time off.

The task force will be headed by Hazel Erby, the county’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion, along with Shannon Koenig, senior policy adviser.

A number of states and municipalities have regulated questions about salary history during the hiring process, and the idea has been the subject of some debate.

“I think the idea behind it is really good,” said Laura Gee, an associate professor at Tufts University who is conducting research on salary history bans. She added that she thinks there are a number of ways it could work differently than expected.

For example, some applicants might choose to disclose their past salaries voluntarily. As a result, employers may assume that applicants who choose not to disclose their salaries earn less. However, Gee noted that her research is ongoing, and has not reached a definitive conclusion yet.

Tuesday marked Page’s first executive order since he took over the position of county executive from Steve Stenger on April 29. Stenger was indicted on federal pay-to-play charges, resigned and later entered a plea of guilty.

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