Disagreement in Colorado over how to close gender pay gap

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Photo: The Colorado Capitol's gold dome, viewed from the west
The gold dome on the Capitol in Denver.

Lawmakers and leaders of women’s groups will gather at the Colorado Capitol Thursday to ask that the state's Pay Equity Commission be revived.

Last week, in a party-line vote, Republicans on the Senate Business, Labor, and Technology Committee chose to discontinue the commission.

It was originally established in 2010 with the aim of suggesting solutions to closing pay disparities between men and women, and between minorities and other groups.

According to one measure released last week by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the gap in pay between men and women is widening in Colorado. Women in Colorado earn about 80 cents for every $1 men make, according to the agency. Some lawmakers and observers say the gap may be smaller or not exist at all. Others say it could be wider.

As debate continues about the commission's future, two former members disagree on what should happen. Nancy Reichman is a professor of sociology at the University of Denver, and she wants the commission to continue its work. She says it provides a forum for a broad range of views. Kathie Barstnar is a small business owner, and she says the commission should be dissolved. She believes a pay gap exists and says women may need more skills for negotiating better pay for themselves in the workplace.

Without a committee, Barstnar hopes that outside groups that are passionate about pay inequity will find ways to unite and fight for the issue independently.

Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, is pushing House Bill 1133 to reinstate the commission. The bill is scheduled to be heard in committee this afternoon. Donna Evans, the president and CEO of the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and Erin Bennett, the state’s director of 9to5, a nonprofit that advocates for working women, are supporting the bill.

Editor's Note: A prior version of this story stated the pay gap had widened for male and female workers doing the same jobs. The pay disparity between men and women has widened overall in that time.