With Gov. Jerry Brown ready to sign a bill aimed at closing the wage gap between men and women, California will soon claim some of the strongest pay equity laws in the nation.
Santa Clara County leaders have called for local rules to build on that effort. County supervisors Dave Cortese and Cindy Chavez proposed regulations requiring the county and all of its contractors to offer equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender or ethnicity.
The ordinance—announced on Wednesday, Women’s Equality Day—will come up for a vote at the Sept. 15 board meeting.
“With more and more households headed by women, communities have increasingly taken on pay equity as a local issue,” says Esther Peralez-Dieckmann, head of the county’s Office of Women’s Policy. “That’s what happened in San Francisco, and now we’re seeing that in our county with this proposal.”
In the 52 years since Congress passed the Equal Pay Act, the pay gap has narrowed by only 18 cents. Loopholes make the federal law tough to enforce. And pay secrecy makes it hard for women to know if they earn less than their male colleagues.
Today, women make 78 cents for every dollar a man earns, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Some researchers dispute that calculation, saying the gap shrinks when comparing men and women with the same job and same experience.
In Silicon Valley, women with a bachelor’s degree earn up to 61 percent less than men with the same education. Part of that owes to what’s been called a “position gap.” That is, men are more likely to have higher-paying positions than their female counterparts, who remain vastly underrepresented in the tech sector.
Regardless, the disparity sharpens for women of color. In California, black women take home 64 cents to a man’s dollar, according to the Department of Labor. Latinas claim the largest wage gap in the United States, earning just 44 cents to that dollar. In Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, Latinas working full-time earn 35 percent of white male salaries.
On Thursday, SB 358—the California Fair Pay Act, penned by Sen. Hanna-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara)—passed the state Assembly in a resounding 66-2 vote. The bipartisan-backed bill now returns to the Senate for a second vote before landing on Gov. Brown’s desk.
Brown, who rarely comments on pending legislation, has pledged to sign it. Top aide Nancy McFadden announced as much in a tweet on Women’s Equality Day.
— Nancy McFadden (@NancyEMcFadden) August 27, 2015
With Brown’s blessing, this new law will add protections for women who speak up about unfair pay and discuss salaries with their colleagues. It also requires equal pay for “substantially similar work,” regardless of gender but with exceptions for merit, seniority and productivity.
Another pay parity bill would prohibit employers from asking job candidates about their salary history. AB 1017, sponsored by Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose), passed the Assembly and was sent to the Senate.
The county’s proposed ordinance would bolster federal and state law with local enforcement. It would require the county—which happens to be the largest employer in the region—to research, analyze and correct pay inequities and hiring practices.
County officials have enacted a series of wage policies demanding that contractors hired on the public dime treat their employees equitably.
In January, county supervisors passed a living wage ordinance requiring for-profit companies doing business with the county to pay employees at least $19.06 an hour. In August of last year, the board approved new rules on wage theft that would disqualify companies from county contracts if they stiffed workers on pay.
Chavez and Cortese will announce the equal pay proposal at Friday’s Women’s Equality Day luncheon at San Jose’s Mexican Heritage Plaza.
— Santa Clara County (@SCCgov) August 20, 2015
Rounding out a week dedicated to women’s equality is a march and rally taking place Saturday. The event commemorates the 95th anniversary of women securing the right to vote.
Speakers include Supervisor Chavez, San Jose Councilwoman Magdalena Carrasco, the city’s Vice Mayor Rose Herrera, Santa Clara County Board of Education President Darcie Green and workers rights attorney Ruth Silver Taube.