CA Makes Huge Strides on Equal Pay with New Law, But We Mustn’t Stop There

This has been a historic week for California! On Tuesday, Governor Brown signed historic legislation aimed to squash the gender wage gap in California. Signing SB 358 (Jackson), the California Fair Pay Act closes decades-old loopholes that have helped employers work around the Equal Pay Act, signed by President Kennedy in 1963.

Today is also Latina Equal Pay Day, a day meant to raise awareness about the persistent gender wage gap affecting Latinas across the nation. While Caucasian women make on average 78 cents to every dollar their white male counterparts make, Latinas make 44 cents to every dollar earned by white male counterparts.  According to the Department of Labor, this leads to a shocking loss of $23,000 annually for Latinas on average.  Federal legislation to address these stubborn and detrimental gender wage gaps have historically failed to pass Congress, making the California Fair Pay Act all the more important for millions of women and their families across our state.

California leads the nation with women covered by a union contract. A union contract is powerful in many ways but for women in particular it can provide clarity on wages and ensure women workers earn just as much as their male coworkers. The California Fair Pay Act seeks to bring that same level of security to millions of women who are not (yet!) organized and working without the benefit of a union contract.

The LA Times reports:

California and the federal government already have laws banning employers from paying women less than men for the same jobs. The new California Fair Pay Act broadens that prohibition by saying bosses cannot pay employees less than those of the opposite sex for “substantially similar work,” even if their titles are different or they work at different sites.

Up until the bill was signed on Tuesday, employers could get away with paying their women employees less than their male employees doing similar work simply by hiring women at a different worksite and/or slightly different title. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t equal.

Furthermore the California Fair Pay Act has an important additional protection: it makes it illegal for a boss to retaliate against employees who ask about or discuss wages with their coworkers.

While laws like these are important and deserve celebration, most folks don’t know that to an increasing number of workers, these laws don’t apply. That’s because many employers are now using forced arbitration to skirt protections on pay, sexual harassment, wage theft and a host of other workplace issues. .

Art Pulaski, the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the California Labor Federation recently authored an opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee on this sinister trend:

If you’ve ever signed a job application, you’re familiar with the overly technical fine print. What you may not know is an arbitration agreement hidden in the fine print nullifies your rights to seek justice in a court of law if your boss sexually harasses you, cheats you out of pay or commits a host of other abuses.

Sign the job application, lose your rights – most often without even knowing it.

In workplaces across California, this scheme is becoming more commonplace. Big corporations such as the one that owns Pizza Hut are including an agreement that, if signed, binds the employee to the employer’s rigged arbitration system for virtually all disputes. It’s called forced arbitration because workers don’t have a choice in the matter if they want a job.

You can read the full column here. And be sure to share far and wide to urge the Governor to sign AB 465.

It’s imperative to make sure workers are not cheated out of laws and protections we’re proud to pass in California, including: paid sick days, family leave, protection from sexual harassment on the job, and so many others. The California Fair Pay Act is the most recent in a long line of game-changing legislation passed in California and like all other protections we’re proud of, it will mean nothing if we cannot enforce it.

Join the conversation and follow #LatinaEqualPayDay on twitter and urge Governor Brown to sign AB 465!