Editorials

Senate steps up on pay equity

State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, right, in the Senate chambers as lawmakers cast their votes on her wage equality bill, SB358.
State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, right, in the Senate chambers as lawmakers cast their votes on her wage equality bill, SB358. The Associated Press

More than a half-century after the federal Equal Pay Act outlawed wage discrimination based on gender, women in this country continue to be underpaid.

From hotel maids to Hollywood moguls, a woman’s work is just about never compensated at parity with a man’s, partly because of loopholes that have evolved to block women from effectively forcing the issue.

For more than five years, a bill known as the Paycheck Fairness Act has been pending in Congress to fix that. Unfortunately, the usual partisan gridlock has stood in the way.

So this week, the California Senate took matters into its own hands, approving a bill that would strengthen legal remedies for victims of gender-based pay discrimination. For this, senators deserve thanks and congratulations. If it clears the Assembly and is signed into law, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson’s Senate Bill 358 will give California the toughest pay-equity protections in the United States.

That sounds momentous, but the truth is, a fix this obvious should have been long since accomplished. The California Fair Pay Act is just a slightly tougher state version of the federal paycheck fairness law that Congress can’t seem to make happen.

It fixes technicalities that had prevented women from challenging pay inequities, for example, at chains with multiple job sites, such as supermarkets, and at workplaces where men and women were doing essentially the same work under different job titles – as janitors and maids, for instance.

It also makes it crystal clear that employers can’t retaliate against workers for sharing salary information. And 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 sign of how overdue the change is, the Senate approved the measure on a bipartisan and near-unanimous vote, with only one Democrat not casting a vote. The California Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the bill, partly because gray areas in existing law are confusing and costly for employers.

The Assembly should get on the bandwagon, as should the governor. While they’re at it, they should embrace some of the other pending gender-equity measures, such as paid family leave.

Women support millions of families. As Jackson, a Santa Barbara Democrat, pointed out on the Senate floor, we are long past the days when bored housewives worked for pin money. We applaud the Senate’s bipartisan vote, even as Congress fiddles, but, honestly, what took us so long?

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