In the historic setting of the Richmond shipyards, Governor Brown signed legislation Tuesday signaling a milestone in the decades-long battle for equal pay for women.
SB 358, the California Fair Pay Act, seeks to minimize the wage gap between men and women. Previous legislation only required equal pay for equal work at the same workplace. This law now requires equal pay, regardless of gender, for “substantially similar work.”
Introduced by state Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (District 19), the new law prohibits retaliation against employees who file complaints of wage discrimination, and allows for wage disclosure and claims based on salaries in different workplaces.
“Women are really a critical participant in supporting themselves and their families, and we really need to make sure that women are paid equally and fairly for the work that they do,” Jackson, a Democrat from Santa Barbara, said Tuesday as Brown signed the bill.
Passed with bipartisan support, the California legislation is considered the toughest of its kind in the nation. Brown signed it into law in symbolic surroundings: The Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park, where women filled wartime labor shortages in the Kaiser Shipyards.
Current laws in existence fail to adequately address the wage gap issue. “Sixty-six years after the passage of the California Equal Pay Act, many women still earn less money than men doing the same or similar work,” Brown said in a statement. “This bill is another step toward closing the persistent wage gap between men and women.”
The law shifts the burden onto the employer to prove that any pay differentials have nothing to do with gender and are “strictly job-related,” Jackson said. Previously, it was up to the employee to prove sex discrimination.
Nancy Kirshner-Rodriguez, executive director of the Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, said the law lays a “foundation to confront the challenges” that women face in the workplace.
“California is often known for leading the way and I feel that today we are embarking on a new chapter of focusing attention on why women need to be paid equally to men,” she said.
Tuesday’s signing ceremony was attended by members of the American Rosie the Riveter Association who worked in the Richmond shipyards during World War II.
Kay Morrison, 92, worked as a journeyman welder on the assembly line at Kaiser Shipyard #2 from January 1942 to August 1945. She said she was paid the same as men in those days, but things seemed to slip after the men came home from the war.
“Today is a momentous occasion because when I welded I had equal pay for equal work. This is past due,” she said.
Last year, Morrison and her fellow welders visited the White House to mark the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which addressed pay inequality on a national level. Morrison said the Fair Pay Act will go a long way toward achieving fairness.
“I thank everybody who was involved because it’s going to help everyone in every way…I think we Californians are ahead of the group,” she said.