As the nation celebrates Women's Equality Day, California lawmakers are poised to approve the country's strongest equal pay protections.
Assembly members are expected to vote Thursday on SB 358, also known as the California Fair Pay Act, which would prohibit employers from paying workers less than members of the opposite sex for doing the same job, requiring employers to prove that any pay difference is based on factors other than gender such as skill level or seniority. The bill also protects women who discuss their pay or ask about the compensation of their male colleagues.
"What we find today is that a lot of women don't ask because they're afraid they're going to be retaliated against, and of course you can't complain about something if you don't know about it," state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D), the bill's author, told KXTV in Sacramento earlier this year.
The California state Senate unanimously passed the bill in May.
"Equal pay isn’t just the right thing for women, it’s the right thing for our economy and for California," Jackson said in a statement upon the bill's passage in the Senate. "And it is long overdue."
The legislation goes beyond existing equal pay legislation by requiring equal pay for "substantially similar" work, rather than "equal work." The bill's backers say such language helps close loopholes that allow employers to discriminate against female workers.
The bill is now expected to easily pass in the Assembly. Unlike federal equal pay bills that have divided Republicans and Democrats -- such as the Paycheck Fairness Act, which has been repeatedly blocked by Senate Repbublicans -- California's legislation has support from leaders in both parties.
"As working moms and women who have competed in male-dominated industries, California Republican women stand behind the importance of paying women and men equally for equal work," Assembly minority leader Kristin Olsen (R) told the Sacramento Business Journal.
The legislation has also drawn support from business groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce.