California's Equal Pay Act Is Monumental, But Will It Start A Trend?

by
Kate Brown
On Tuesday, Oct. 6, Governor Jerry Brown signed in the new California Fair Pay Act—will it be enough?

Governor Jerry Brown signed a progressive new bill into law that will hopefully be a real game changer: the California Fair Pay Act. So far, this is the strongest equal pay protection for women in the nation.

But just how progressive is it?

The law requires that workers receive equal pay for “substantially similar work.” It’s that phrasing—“substantially similar work”—that is so progressive. It means that the workers do not have to hold the exact same duties to have comparable pay—they just need to hold the same value in the company.

 “I don’t think this is going to solve all of our problems but I think this is definitely monumental,” assembly member Cristina Garcia, who co-authored the bill, told the Guardian.

The law also gives workers the ability to compare their compensation to those on other job sites, not just within the company. It even allows workers to evaluate equality claims based on the work performed and not just the job title, all with the promise of protection against employer retaliation.

"We really need to change the way we look at jobs through a gender lens,” Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, another co-author of the bill, said.

After the bill was signed into law, Jackson also noted that with this new bill, employers will be required to prove that the “differences in wages are due to factors other than gender and that these factors are not arbitrary but are directly related to the job duties … [the California Fair Pay Act] will mean, for instance, that the female housekeepers that clean rooms in a hotel could legally challenge the higher wages paid to their male janitor counterparts who clean the lobby.”

Some still don’t believe that there is a noticeable wage gap between men and women, and that these bills and laws are frivolous and unnecessary.

The Guardian set out to disprove that notion with a few statistics:

“Across the United States, women make on average 78% of what male counterparts make. California women fare better, bringing home on average 84% of men’s pay, according to a 2014 report from the American Association of University Women, but the gap increases for women of color and mothers … That translates to the average male worker in California bringing home median pay of $50,268 compared with $42,199 for women, a difference that takes $33bn out of women’s pockets each year in the state, according to Jackson.”

Despite those sad statistics, there are still people who disagree with the law. Labor lawyer J. Al Latham told the LA Times that he believes the law will “lead to lots more litigation, which further weakens the business climate in California” since more employees will be taking their employers to court.

However, just believing that there would be enough employees bringing their employers to court proves the entire point of the bill—too many women are not being paid fairly and they should be.

This new law is huge news for California, but we still have a long way to go as a nation. Without more laws in place like this in each state, women will continue to experience a huge, unwavering wage gap between them and their male counterparts.

Hopefully this law will inspire other states to follow California's lead and create some lasting change. 

The law goes into effect January 1. 

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