by James Poulos | August 25, 2015 9:21 am
Without any significant opposition in Sacramento, a bill that would make California the toughest in the nation on gender-equitable pay is poised to clear its final vote in the Assembly and, with Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, become law.
Gathering steam since its introduction in February, Senate Bill 358, introduced by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, passed the Legislature’s higher chamber in May. Notably, the bill sailed through with all but unanimous bipartisan support (one Democrat did not vote). What’s more, as the Fresno Bee observed, the state Chamber of Commerce threw its weight behind the bill “partly because gray areas in existing law are confusing and costly for employers.”
Nevertheless, as the Bee reported, SB358 — known as the California Fair Pay Act — didn’t just tidy up uncertainties in the law. In addition to prohibiting retaliation against workers who share details about their salaries, “it requires employers to prove that wage differences are due to legitimate business necessity, such as superior education or experience, and not gender-driven.”
In a distinctly Californian touch, the bill was introduced two days after actress Patricia Arquette delivered a much-discussed call for wage equality during her Oscar acceptance speech at the Academy Awards, as CBS Los Angeles noted. “We know that janitors, because they tend to be male occupations, tend to get paid more than that housekeeper,” said Jackson on the bill’s debut. “The question becomes, is that work more valuable? And if you look at the differences between that work, the answer is likely to be no, it isn’t more valuable.”
As the bill began to make its way through committee in the state Senate, supporters gained momentum even as a Silicon Valley plaintiff lost a high-profile wage lawsuit and related reforms at the federal level failed. SB358 arrived less than half a year after then-junior investment partner Ellen Pao “lost her three-year battle with Silicon Valley’s most prestigious venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins,” the San Jose Mercury News recalled.
“A growing debate and frustration over the gender pay gap has taken center stage in the Bay Area, and especially Silicon Valley, after recent legal battles have exposed how difficult it can be for women who challenge their male bosses for fair pay.”
Meanwhile, at the federal level, the Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced two years ago by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., received its third and final setback at the hands of Senate Republicans concerned its language would “cause women to lose their jobs,” as the Guardian reported. To head off that criticism, Jackson announced that California business interests would not harbor similar fears as SB358 went forward. “We are working closely with the California Chamber of Commerce to refine the California Fair Pay Act,” she said, according to the Guardian.
In one example of a compromise, employers were not required by the bill to disclose salary information to employees trying to negotiate a raise. “If I’m an employee, and I think you are making more than I am, but I am working as hard as you, probably the same education as you and same experience, I can go to you and say, would you tell me what you are making? You have the right to say no,” Jackson told KXTV-Sacramento.
The softer touch appeared to be enough to shift California’s Republicans and its business lobby over to Jackson’s side. “While the new law won’t force disclosure of men’s salaries, supporters of the measure hope it will begin to change the ‘culture of secrecy’ in the private sector about salaries. The Equal Pay Act attempts to root out not just intentional gender discrimination in the workplace, but subconscious discrimination,” the Mercury News noted.
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