A bill by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, to close the wage gap that women face at work passed off the Senate floor on a unanimous, bipartisan vote today. The vote was 38-0.
Senate Bill 358, the California Fair Pay Act, would ensure that women are paid equally for work that is substantially similar to the work of their male colleagues, and do not face retaliation if they discuss or ask how much their male colleagues are paid. If signed into law, it would be the strongest equal pay law in the nation.
“Equal pay isn’t just the right thing for women, it’s the right thing for our economy and for California. And it is long overdue. 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 a year,” Jackson said. “That money could be flowing into families’ pocketbooks, into our businesses and our economy. After years of dealing with a persistent wage gap, the time is now for women’s paychecks to finally reflect their hard 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.”
The bill has the support of dozens of organizations, including a broad spectrum of labor groups, women’s and legal advocacy organizations, and local government. Although they were initially opposed, the bill also now has the support of the California Chamber of Commerce and is unopposed by the California business community.
“The California Chamber of Commerce is pleased to support SB 358 which seeks to reduce any disparity in pay based upon gender. We agree with Senator Jackson that employees who are similarly situated should receive the same rate of pay for performing substantially similar job duties, ” said Jennifer Barrera, policy advocate with the California Chamber of Commerce.
The bill would go further than the federal Equal Pay Act 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 just 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, co-sponsors of the bill. 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. African-American women are only paid 64 cents on the dollar. 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.
SB 358 now heads to the Assembly.
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.