California Governor Jerry Brown (D) is set to sign what has been called “the strongest equal pay law in the nation.”

The Fair Pay Act, introduced by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-CA), passed unanimously in both the State Assembly and Senate earlier this summer. The Act would ensure that women receive equal pay for work that is the same or substantially similar to that done by men. The legislation also protects from retaliation any woman who asks her male colleagues about their wages.

“After years of dealing with a persistent wage gap, and an equal pay law [in California] that has been on the books since 1949 but that is not as strong as it should be, the time is now for women’s paychecks to finally reflect their hard work and true value,” said Sen. Jackson in a press release. “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.”

The bill is a breakthrough for working women, who have long been concentrated in lower-wage occupations such as nursing, elementary school teachers, cashiers and clerical work. Comparable worth laws, such as this bill, aim to close the wage gap by giving employees in female-dominated fields the legal means to push for pay that’s equal to that of employees doing substantially similar work, requiring comparable education and skill, in different, male-dominated fields. For instance, SB358 would allow a female hotel room cleaner to challenge her employer for paying a male janitor a higher wage, since the jobs are comparable and demand similar skills.

“Over time, what we see is women consistently starting off behind men from the get go,” Jennifer Reisch, legal director at Equal Rights Advocates, told the San Jose Mercury News. “What may start off as a barely noticeable difference over time really grows and is the reason why over a woman’s lifetime, a woman is losing close to a half a million dollars due to the wage gap.”

Women in California make an average of 84 cents for every dollar earned by a man. That gap is even starker for women of color; Black women earn 64 cents to the dollar and Latinas earn a startling 44 cents.

There is a national law that protects women from pay discrimination—the 1963 Equal Pay Act—but according to Jackson, the Fair Pay Act would go much further. The California bill not only protects women from retaliation, but it also allows employees to challenge pay disparities between workers doing the same job at different branches of the same company (for example, two grocery store clerks working for the same parent company at different locations) and those doing comparable work. In addition, the bill requires employers to prove that pay disparities are based on qualifications and not on gender.

Said Jackson, “It is time that we fix the wage gap that women face at work and lead the nation in showing how it can be done.”

Media Resources: CA Legislature SB 358; Senator Jackson Press Release 8/28/15; US Department of Labor 2010 Data; San Jose Mercury News 8/24/15; EEOC Laws;

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