California Lawmakers Pass Equal-Wage Bill

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – Legislation strengthening California’s equal-pay laws cleared its last hurdle Monday in the state Senate and heads to Gov. Jerry Brown for final approval.
     Senate Bill 358 passed the Senate unanimously and when signed will become the nation’s strictest equal-pay law. Last week Brown’s press office announced via Twitter that he would sign the bill aimed at closing the state’s wage gap once it passed the Legislature.
     The bill expands current California laws prohibiting companies from paying women less than men for the same work and requires employers to pay both the same for “substantially similar work.”
     Authored by Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, the California Equal Pay Act provides retaliation protections for female employees who discuss or compare wages with male employees, Jackson said.
     Jackson pointed to data revealing that California women make 84 cents for every dollar men earn and that they are denied $33 billion annually because of wage gaps.
     “This bill is long overdue, but here we are today with a chance to make history,” Jackson testified. “This bill will be the template for other states to follow.”
     Jackson’s bill was backed by various labor groups, local governments and the California Chamber of Commerce – which initially opposed the bill until amendments were added. Once signed, it will force employers in employment lawsuits to provide proof of differences in wages between male and female employees.
     Last week Brown’s office took the unusual step of announcing support for SB 358 while it was still working through the Legislature. Brown typically declines comment on proposed laws but announced support for the bill in honor of Women’s Equality Day.
     Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, testified in support of the bill and called out fellow lawmakers for failing to pay female staffers the same as men.
     “Before we start shaking our fingers at those outside the dome, we should be looking inside and calling out those members who choose to underpay their staff,” Anderson said.
     Anderson referred to a March report by the Sacramento Bee revealing that in the state Assembly, women make 92 cents on the dollar compared with men and that the five highest-paid employees in the statehouse are men.
     California ranked 30th overall in a recent Wallet Hub study that compared states using 11 metrics to find the “most gender-egalitarian states.” The study examined the wage gap between male and female executives, employment rates and political representation. According to the study, California has the second-smallest wage gap after Vermont.
     Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, thanked Jackson for pushing the bill and said it will benefit both women and men in the long run.
     “This is a bill about women’s rights but it helps everybody, anyone who is married,” Leyva said. “If I make as much money as [my husband] then that helps our family.”

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