NEW YORK — Ninety pounds of confetti painted City Hall red, white and blue to honor the U.S. women’s national soccer team Wednesday, but the excitement was tinged by recognition of the gender-based pay gap in professional sports.
That tension was on display when City Council Member Helen Rosenthal shouted, “Pay them!” as Mayor Bill de Blasio honored the athletes on a makeshift stage in front of a packed City Hall plaza, three days after their win in France. Rosenthal repeated the chant from her perch on a balcony to the side of the stage.
Story Continued Below
A man who identified himself to reporters as an employee with the national team admonished Rosenthal, telling a staffer for Council Speaker Corey Johnson she wasn’t being “classy.”
The brief exchange highlighted concerns voiced throughout the day over women being paid less than men in the sport.
“Our women are being ripped off; let’s be clear,” de Blasio told reporters at a press gaggle ahead of the ticker-tape parade through Lower Manhattan that was attended by some 300,000 people, according to City Hall’s estimate.
He hastily called the gathering Wednesday morning to announce plans he would act on to narrow the divide, should he win his long-shot bid to become president of the United States.
De Blasio said he would “insist” that Congress amend the 1978 Amateur Sports Act to require pay equity between men and women in all professional sports and, in the event of a political stalemate, would sign an executive order instructing the Treasury Department to revoke the tax-exempt status of the U.S. Soccer Federation.
He also called for passage of the so-called Paycheck Fairness Act that would take several steps toward closing the gender-based pay gap that persists in certain industries.
“In New York we have banned the question of salary history in employment. … It bakes in the discrimination against women that has existed for decades,” the mayor said. “We need a national law that does the same thing.”
A recent article in the New York Post featured pay discrepancies between high-ranking men and women in de Blasio’s administration.
The mayor’s new public housing chair, Greg Russ, is earning $403,000, compared to the salary of his predecessor, Shola Olatoye, who was making $231,000 when she left the troubled agency last year. And schools Chancellor Richard Carranza makes $345,000, compared to $266,000 earned by Carmen Fariña, who held the job before him.
De Blasio — whose campaign event was staffed by government aides, some banking volunteer hours — defended the salaries and called the article “an attempt to obscure the truth.”
“If they had been women they’d be making the same amount. That’s the point,” he said. He referenced the city’s actuary, Sherry Chan, whom he said “makes more than everyone else.” At $290,331 a year, Chan is among the city’s top earners, but does not make more than all other employees.
In addition, several women in the de Blasio administration have been tasked with doing two simultaneous jobs for one salary.
Meanwhile Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation mandating equal pay for comparable work between men and women in New York State.
Nick Niedzwiadek contributed to this report.