A bill by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, to close the wage gap that women face at work passed out of the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee on Wednesday. The vote was 4-0.
Senate Bill 358, the California Fair Pay Act, would ensure that women are paid equally for work that is comparable or substantially similar to the work of their male colleagues, and do not face retaliation if they discuss or ask about pay at work. If signed into law, it would be the strongest equal pay law in the nation.
“Equal pay is long overdue. It isn’t just the right thing for women, it’s the right thing for our economy and for California. Families rely on women’s income more than ever before. Because of the wage gap, our state and families are missing out on $33.6 billion dollars a year,” Jackson said. “That is money that could be flowing into families’ pocketbooks, helping to feed our children and assist families in making ends meet. It is money that could be flowing into our businesses and our economy. But this is also an issue of basic fairness, of ensuring that women’s paychecks reflect their work and true value. It is time that we fix the wage gap that women face at work once and for all, and lead the nation in showing how it can be done.”
“Promoting fair pay and eliminating the gap between the wages of women and men in California is more important than ever. Women are critical to building a strong and vibrant economy in this state and have played a pivotal role in the economic recovery of the past few years. They are also breadwinners in two-thirds of families with children. Yet women, especially women of color and mothers, continue to lose precious income to a pervasive, gender-based wage gap. SB 358 will make California’s equal pay law clearer, stronger, and more effective,” said Jennifer Reisch, legal director for Equal Rights Advocates, a San Francisco-based civil rights organization.
When the bill is amended next week, it would go further than current, federal gender-based discrimination law in a number of ways:
» It would prohibit retaliation against employees who discuss or ask about pay at work.
» It would allow employees to challenge pay discrimination based on wages paid to other workers at different worksites of the same employer. For example, a female grocery store clerk who works at a store could challenge higher wages being made by male grocery store clerks at a store owned by the same employer a few miles away.
» Employees could challenge pay discrimination based on wages paid to those doing substantially similar work. For example, a female housekeeper who cleans rooms in a hotel could challenge the higher wages being paid to a male janitor who cleans the lobby and banquet halls.
» It would require employers to show that differences in wages are due to factors other than gender, that the factor is job-related and reasonable, and that these factors – rather than discrimination – account for the difference in pay. For example, if a male chef is making more money than a female chef because he works weekend shifts, the employer would have to show that the weekend shifts are busier and require more work and account for the difference in wages. In addition, the employer would have to prove that the weekend shift position was open to all chefs, and that the employer hired the male chef because he was the most qualified or willing to work the shifts.
In 2013, a woman in California working full-time made a median 84 cents to every dollar a man earned, according to the Equal Rights Advocates. The gap is significantly greater for women of color. Latinas in California make only 44 cents for every dollar a white man makes, the most significant Latina wage gap in the nation. As a group, women who are employed full-time in California lose approximately $33.6 billion every year due to the wage gap.
Jackson is chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus. SB 358 is one of the bills prioritized by the California Legislative Women’s Caucus this year as part of a package titled, “A Stronger California: Securing Economic Opportunity for All Women.” The package of budget recommendations and bills is designed to advance women’s economic opportunities as the state rebounds from the economic downturn.
Jackson represents the 19th Senate District, which includes all of Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County.
— Lisa Gardiner is the communications director for state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson.