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The Riggs Report: Pay parity in California

Gov. Brown signs legislation mandating same pay for men, women

My friend Deirdre Fitzpatrick’s 9-year-old son expressed amazement, she told me, when he heard a radio report about the pay gap between men and women. He wanted to know, she said, why they’d be paid differently for the same work.

It’s a great question that’s been asked over the years by plenty of adults, and the law isn’t exactly silent on this.

For years, it’s been illegal for women to be paid less than men for the same job. But that’s been interpreted as identical pay for identical work, leaving a substantial wage gap.

California lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown addressed that disparity this week with the signing of SB 358, the California Fair Pay Act.

The law, by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, is considered one of the toughest equal-pay laws in the nation.

“After years of dealing with a persistent wage gap and an equal pay law that has been on the books since 1949, but that is not as strong as it should be, the time has come for women’s paychecks to finally reflect their hard work and true value,” Jackson said in a statement released by her office.

Jackson pointed to statistics compiled by Equal Rights Advocates, a co-sponsor of the bill, which indicate that in 2013, full-time female workers in the state earned a median 84 cents to every dollar earned by male workers.

A significant point: the California Chamber of Commerce, which fiercely works to kill legislation considered anti-business, had initially been opposed to SB 358, but reversed its position and became a supporter.

“Equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender, shouldn’t be an issue in California,” said Allan Zaremberg, CalChamber’s longtime president and CEO, who added that the measure would allow employers to better manage wage issues.

In signing the bill, Brown said it addressed an important inequity in the state. It requires that men and women receive the same pay for “substantially similar work.” It doesn’t require identical work or an identical work title.

The measure also specifies new legal protections to prohibit retaliation by employers against workers who talk about or ask about what their co-workers are being paid.

Employers who are challenged on wage issues will have to show that wage differences are based on issues like seniority or work shifts, not gender discrimination.

There will be more lawsuits and legal conflicts ahead, but the law’s goals are clear enough: to ensure fair pay in the workplace.