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Why are salaries secret? Missouri lawmaker pushes for transparency

A new study from Payscale reveals our area has the widest gap in gender pay in the nation.

ST. LOUIS — Salaries are often a secret among workplaces around the country. Research by Washington University in St. Louis shows that secrecy unfairly widens pay gaps, especially for women and racial minorities.

A new study from Payscale reveals our area has the widest gap in gender pay in the nation.

Charles Washington said he's been personally impacted.

He wears a lot of hats to earn about $160,000 a year. He's a credit counselor, a day trader and he owns a trucking business. He left his job as a pharmacy technician after learning his salary didn’t match others with the same job. 

“I was angry at first and really angry," said Washington. “A student coming off the street was making… about $5,000 more than me yearly.” 

He had the same certifications as the new hire. He didn't have the same pay.

“I put in time. I miss holidays. I mean, I work extra hours," he said. 

He believes others may have been unknowingly lowballed even more. 

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis told the I-Team pay secrecy can widen pay gaps, especially for minorities and women. 

Some of these gaps are the worst in our area. 

New research released just this year from Payscale shows two cities in our area have the biggest gaps in gender pay in the nation. The study compared people with the same job titles and the same experience. In St. Louis and Kansas City, for every $100 a man makes, a woman makes $3 less. Over a lifetime in the workforce, that can add up to thousands in losses. 

It’s a problem cities and states around the country are addressing with pay transparency laws. Take Colorado for example, where a law passed last year forces employers to disclose salary ranges in job postings. Lawmakers in New York City passed similar legislation two weeks ago. A survey this month by ResumeBuilder shows 92% of workers support salary transparency laws and 61% say laws will decrease unfair wage gaps. 

Stacie Haller, a career expert at ResumeBuilder, believes more transparency around pay may level the playing field. Her company’s new research shows people don’t want pay to be private. A total of 88% of workers will demand to know the salary range for their job when the law allows it.

“There's more power now to workers who are demanding more flexible hours with demanding work from home. So this is the next step now in demanding equal pay," said Haller.

“It's fair and it's the right thing to do," said Missouri Sen. Steven Roberts, (D) 5th District.

Roberts wants Missouri to lead the way. In February, he filed Senate Bill 1137. It didn’t pass. He said Republican Senator Eric Burlison never gave it a committee hearing, which stopped it from moving forward. Roberts plans to re-file his bill in December. If it becomes law, it would force employers in Missouri to share salary ranges when hiring.

“So, the real question is how do we keep retaining employees here? And if you're lowballing your folks that much, I don't see how you keep talent in this region. And we'll continue to see the population in the region decline," said Roberts. “And we need policies like this bill to keep and retain that type of talent.” 

So, if this gets passed, how would we know that companies are telling the truth? Who will hold the companies accountable?

“There is a penalty provision, so they could be fined no less than $1,000, up to $5,000 for each infraction," said Roberts. 

In the end, he believes removing pay secrecy is a win for employees and employers. 

“It cuts out all the folks who are unnecessarily applying for a job that they were never going to take in the first place," he said. 

It’s about efficiency, retention, and fairness, said Washington. That's something he’s keeping in mind when he starts hiring. 

Resistance to pay transparency often comes from the business community. More transparency can mean higher salaries, which means more expense. We’ve reached out to both the state and federal Chambers of Commerce to find out their position on pay transparency laws. We did not receive a response by our deadline.

Here's a look at pay transparency laws by state

For full transparency, KSDK currently does not post salary ranges for job postings. The law does not require it. KSDK’s parent company is Tegna Inc., headquartered in Virginia. Tegna owns dozens of stations around the country, and follows local laws. For example, in states where the law requires salary ranges on job postings, such as Colorado, salary ranges are posted

Got a tip or a concern? Call or text KSDK's senior investigative reporter Paula Vasan at 314-250-9560. Email her at pvasan@ksdk.com

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