The Riggs Report: A genderless pay scale

Measure advances to reduce workplace discrimination

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, is not a natural ally of the California Chamber of Commerce. Last year, the Chamber opposed a bill she carried to prohibit sale or lease of a vehicle subject to recall. The measure failed a key committee vote. The year before, the Chamber also opposed another bill she authored to increase legal rights of domestic violence victims. Business owners were opposed because of warnings that it would increase litigation costs. It passed and was signed by the governor.

Both measures had this in common: they were placed on the Chamber’s “job killer” list, which has had notable success in sending business-related measure to the graveyard.

This year, another reminder that enemies one year can be allies the next. Initially opposed, the Chamber ultimately offered its support for Jackson’s bill, SB 358, that seeks to address pay inequality in the workplace. The bill sailed through the Senate this week on a unanimous vote. It heads now to the Assembly and appears to face no serious bumps on its way to the governor’s desk.

The support goes much deeper than that. Labor groups, women’s organizations and local agencies are also on record in favor of the bill.

Jackson’s office says her bill, called the California Fair Pay Act, goes well beyond federal protection laws by prohibiting retaliation against employees who raise the equity issue at work and by requiring employers to demonstrate that different pay between male and female employees is due to specific differences in the job.

“Equal pay isn’t just the right thing for women, it’s the right thing for our economy and for California,” Jackson said in a statement released by her office. “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.”

How significant is the wage gap? Jackson’s office quotes the Equal Rights Advocates, a co-sponsor of the bill, as saying that a full-time female worker earned a median wage of 84 cents for every dollar earned by a male worker in California in 2013. The organization says the disparity is much worse for women who are ethnic minorities.

SB 358 is a top priority of the Women’s Caucus within the state Legislature, and is riding a significant wave of support. That reflects, in part, a growing economy as well as growing recognition of the evolving workforce.