Equal Pay Bill Heads to Governor's Desk for Promised Signature

 (Paul Richards/Getty)

Legislation that supporters say will make California the nation's leader on assuring men and women are paid the same for similar jobs has landed on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown, who has promised to sign it into law.

The final vote in the California Legislature on Senate Bill 358 was unanimous in the state Senate on Monday, a sign at how both labor and business groups have joined ranks on the proposal.

"This is a momentous day for California, and it's long overdue," said state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, the author of SB 358.

The bill was introduced earlier this year as part of a package of proposals aimed at helping women in the workforce. Its main provision says that women must be paid the same as their male colleagues "for substantially similar work," unless the employer qualifies for one of a set or narrow exemptions.

SB 358 also imposes a ban on any retaliation against women who discuss their pay, or ask about the salaries of colleagues, while on the job. And it allows employees to challenge wage gaps that exist at different worksites -- for example, said Jackson's staff, when a grocery chain's clerks are paid differently at different stores for the same duties.

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Key to the bill's passage were changes that sought to protect what employers might see as a "business necessity" for disparities in the pay of some male and female employees. That change earned SB 358 the support of the California Chamber of Commerce, virtually eliminating any chance it would be blocked in its trip through the Legislature.

While Governor Brown almost never comments on whether he'll sign or veto a bill prior to it arriving on his desk, he broke that unwritten rule with the pay equity bill -- in the form of a tweet from his top adviser, Nancy McFadden, last week.

McFadden's tweet came during national celebrations of Women's Equality Day, and pretty much settled the issue in Sacramento.

Supporters of SB 538 say that the median salary for a woman in California was 84 cents to a dollar for a man in 2013, a gap that widens when looking solely at women of color.

Brown has until mid-September to sign the bill, which will take effect on January 1.

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