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More work to do on equal pay for California women

Women rally at the state Capitol in Sacramento on March 10 in support of an economic agenda being sought by the Legislative Women’s Caucus.
Women rally at the state Capitol in Sacramento on March 10 in support of an economic agenda being sought by the Legislative Women’s Caucus. rbyer@sacbee.com

Tuesday represents the day we “celebrate” when a typical woman’s earnings catch up to what a white male made the previous year. The average woman working full time has to work 15 months to earn what a male did in just 12. The pay gap is even worse for women of color.

Members of the American Association of University Women have worked tirelessly to urge lawmakers to close the gender pay gap once and for all. But additional legislation is needed to give employers and employees the tools to prevent wage discrimination in the first place – and we’ve been waiting too long for that.

In California, women make an average of 84 cents of what the typical male worker does. That means less money for feeding families, paying off student loans and saving for retirement. It also leads to lower morale in the workplace and higher turnover.

Compensating women equally can address many of these problems. But without legislative remedies for pay equity, the pace of change has been glacial. It could take more than 100 years. Our nation’s economy and working families can’t wait that long.

In the absence of action by Congress, California approved the strongest equal-pay law in the nation last year. While I am proud to live in a state that takes this issue seriously, more work must be done. Senate Bill 1063 would ban wage discrimination based on race, while Assembly Bill 1890 would require state contractors to comply with a nondiscrimination program.

Assembly Bill 1676 would prohibit employers from asking about prior salary history, protecting women and others who have been chronically underpaid or have taken time out to raise their families, but are no less qualified to hold their job.

Last year, two of these bills passed the Legislature, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed them. This year, we need the bills signed into law. Without a more comprehensive approach, California women will not be able to achieve full economic equality.

Passing a federal equal-pay law would help protect everyone, but until that happens, state laws are needed. California AAUW members will continue to urge state legislators to strengthen our laws so that fair pay is a reality for everyone.

Sue Miller of Rocklin is co-chairwoman of the Public Policy Committee of the American Association of University Women of California. She can be contacted at suellen.aauw@gmail.com.

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