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Paycheck parity: Assembly backs equal pay for women

Paycheck parity: Assembly backs equal pay for women
A soccer fan holds up a sign calling for equal pay for female athletes at the U.S. Women's World Cup football team's championship celebration rally at L.A. LIVE in downtown Los Angeles in July. (ROBYN BECK / AFP/Getty Images)

California lawmakers on Thursday approved a measure intended to help female employees receive the equal pay to their male counterparts.

Current state law, enacted in 1949, requires employers to pay women and men equal wages if they perform equal work in the same establishment.

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Pay differentials are allowed only if based on factors other than an employee's sex, such as seniority, merit, experience or education.

But lawmakers and women's rights advocates say there are loopholes in this law which prevent female employees from fully exercising their right to equal pay.

The proposal, by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), would prohibit employers from retaliating or discriminating against employees who inquire about co-workers' wages. It would also clarify the factors on which employers can make pay differentials: They would need to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.

Supporters of the measure said it would be the strongest equal pay law in the nation.

"This bill is about equal pay for equal jobs," said Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) on the Assembly floor.

The state Assembly approved the legislation, SB 358, by a vote of 66-2.

When speaking in support of the measure, Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose) cited a study by the National Partnership for Women and Families, which found that working women in California lose $33.6 billion each year due to the wage gap.

"Loopholes that prevent women from being paid the same as men [harm] our economy and are unfair," Campos said.

The measure earned bipartisan support. Assembly Republican leader Kristen Olsen of Modesto spoke in favor of the proposal on the floor Thursday and stood beside the bill's author, Jackson, earlier this week to support it at a press conference.

"It is shocking that in 2015, we are continuing to work on this," Olsen said.

Olsen said the proposal represents an appropriate balance between holding employers accountable for wage discrimination and preventing "a climate of unnecessary legislation."

Jackson, who chairs the California Legislative Women's Caucus, said at a press conference earlier this week that she was inspired to introduce the measure after listening to actress Patricia Arquette speak at February's Academy Awards ceremony.

While accepting an Oscar for best supporting actress, Arquette said, "It's our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America."

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"Women are tired of their paychecks not reflecting the true value of their hard work," Jackson said.

The measure now heads back to the Senate for a concurrence vote. Gov. Jerry Brown would sign the bill if it reaches his desk, according to Nancy McFadden, executive secretary to the governor, in a tweet posted Wednesday on Women’s Equality Day. 

The Assembly also approved a measure that would ban major league baseball players from using chewing tobacco on the playing field.

Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Oakland), the bill's author, noted that at a recent legislative baseball game, in which Democratic and Republican lawmakers squared off, no members were seen using smokeless tobacco.

"I believe that every member on the field role modeled exactly what this bill is about: not using smokeless tobacco in the present view of our children," said Thurmond, urging his colleagues to vote 'aye.' "Let's pass this bill and pave the way for our California stadiums to do the same."

The bill, AB 768, passed on a 46-18 vote and now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown for consideration.

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