SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – San Francisco officials on Monday called on the city’s private sector to promote gender equality in the workplace but also faced criticism from their own city employees for a proposal to reduce pay for public sector jobs primarily held by women and people of color.

The Gender Equality Challenge, announced by members of the city’s Department on the Status of Women and other officials at City Hall, encourages businesses to seek best practices to engender fairness for both men and women in the workplace.

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The best practices, which advance principles such as equal pay for women and employees’ work-life balance, will then be showcased in a January 2014 forum.

The challenge is part of an effort “to link women’s empowerment and equity to corporate policies and programs,” said Emily Murase, the department’s executive director.

According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, women in the Bay Area are paid 84 cents for every dollar paid to men, a yearly gap of nearly $10,000 between men and women who work full-time.

“We know the statistics are not good,” Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said. “We can do better.”

Mayor Ed Lee did not attend Monday’s event but his spokeswoman Christine Falvey said gender equality “is at the top of the mayor’s agenda and has been since day one.”

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However, more than a dozen members from Service Employees International Local 1021, which represents a large swath of city employees, gathered in the hallway outside the event at City Hall to criticize a plan they said would reduce pay for many female public sector employees.

The proposal by the city’s Department of Human Resources would reduce the starting pay for employees in 16 different job classifications, including nursing assistants, hospital eligibility workers and museum guards.

Department spokeswoman Susan Gard said the cost-cutting changes would impact new hires, not current employees, and that employees in those classifications currently make 20 percent over those working similar jobs in other Bay Area cities.

But SEIU members noted women make up as many as 89 percent of workers in some of those job classifications and accused the city of hypocrisy for promoting equal pay in the private sector while reducing pay for women in the public sector.

The female members of the union wore fake moustaches and said they would make more money if they were men. They called on the mayor to reject the pay cut proposal.

“I hope he leads by example,” said Brenda Barros, who works at San Francisco General Hospital. “The same behavior he’s complaining about in the private industry, it’s happening in the public sector.”

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