In the realm of American politics and culture, California is known for leading the way on a host of issues, from the environment to the tech boom. Now the Golden State is poised to launch one of the nation’s boldest attempts to fix pay inequality between men and women. The state’s proposed Fair Pay Act, which passed the state Senate on August 31 and is supported by Gov. Brown, would ensure that male and female employees are paid the same if they perform “substantially similar” work, even if their job titles differ or they work in different offices. In addition, under the bill employees would be free to discuss their salaries without fear of retaliation. Proponents of the bill have also lauded it for closing a legal loophole that prevented people who worked for an employer with multiple locations from challenging their pay based on compensation at other sites.
“This provision is what used to be called pay equity: not just requiring the same pay for the same job, but for different jobs that are similar in terms of effort, responsibility, and skill,” wrote Bryce Covert for Think Progress. In other words, under the bill an employer would have to offer equal pay employees in separate positions — such as housekeepers and janitors — so long as those positions required substantially similar work. Although this concept gained some traction in the 1980s, Covert pointed out, it has generally fizzled out.
Interestingly, the bill, SB380 has support not only from labor groups, but also from the California Chamber of Commerce. Ultimately, the chamber decided the bill would provide more clarity for businesses and reduce litigation. On the flip side, equality activists, including the California National Organization for Women, opposed the bill because it did not address wage discrimination based on race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. According to statistics cited by the Orange County Register, women of color are particularly disadvantaged when it comes to pay: Nationally, women make 78 cents on the male dollar, whereas Latino and black women earn 54 percent and 64 percent on the dollar respectively.