LOS ANGELES — California Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed into law the strongest equal pay measure in the nation.
The California Fair Pay Act, sponsored by Democratic State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, aims to ensure women are paid equally for work that is substantially similar to the work of male colleagues. A key component of the law is to protect women workers from retaliation if they discuss or ask how much men in their workplace are paid.
“This is a momentous day for California, and it is long overdue,” Jackson said. “Equal pay isn’t just the right thing for women, it’s the right thing for the economy and for California.”
Brown signed the bill at a ceremony at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park in Richmond, California. He was flanked by women and girls of all ages.
He said the bill will slowly resolve “the inequities that have plagued our state” and called the law a “very important milestone.”
The measure had broad bipartisan support and was approved in the Senate by a unanimous vote. It was unopposed by the business community. The California Chamber of Commerce dropped its initial opposition after wording changes.
“All too often, women don’t know they’re being paid less than their male counterparts and lack access to the information they need to assert their right to receive equal pay for substantially similar work,” said Jennifer Reisch, legal director for Equal Rights Advocates, co-sponsor of the bill.
In California, women workers earn 84 cents on the dollar but the inequality widens tremendously for women of color. Latinas make only 44 cents for every dollar a white man makes — the largest gap in the nation for Hispanic women workers. African-American women are paid 64 cents on the dollar.
The wage gap is estimated to result in $33.6 billion in lost income for the state and families.
“That money could be flowing into families’ pocketbooks, into our businesses and our economy,” Jackson said.
The gender gap in salaries exists nationwide. Women who work full-time were typically paid 79 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts in 2014, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released last month.
The California bill is expected to serve as a blueprint for other states to follow.
It allows women workers to challenge their pay based on what workers at other sites make. For example, a female grocery store clerk who works at a store could challenges higher wages earned by male workers at a store owned by the same employer a few miles away.
The employer would then have to prove that the wage difference is due to factors other than gender.
The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement has the power to investigate complaints filed with the agency and request wages on the employees’ behalf. The worker’s name would be confidential. An employee will be able to file a complaint with the labor division or file a civil complaint directly in Superior Court.
Brown’s signing of the bill came as no surprise. His office had tweeted his support for the measure in August.
Brown also is considering a bill that aims to end the cycle of women's wages lagging behind men's pay by barring employers from using previous salary information as justification for paying women less than their male co-workers.
Some lawmakers balked at approving the measure by Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, noting the Legislature itself uses previous salary information to set employees' wages.