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California Equal Pay Bill Dies After Big Business Opposition

Nicole Knight

"The gender pay gap is discrimination, pure and simple, and it will persist until we do something about it."

California’s Democratic governor on Sunday moved in lockstep with the Trump administration by quashing a plan to expose gender pay differences at large employers with the aim of shrinking the gender wage gap.

The bill Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed would have required major employers to reveal the difference between what men and women in the same jobs are paid. The pay data would’ve gone to the secretary of state and eventually the public.

The bill would’ve affected around 5,000 employers, but the California Chamber of Commerce targeted the legislation, placing it on its list of “job killers.”

“The intent is to publicly shame companies who report any disparities in pay amongst employees of different genders,” the chamber’s senior policy advocate Jennifer Barrera wrote of the bill. “This criticism, however, is totally misplaced as wage disparities do not automatically equate into wage discrimination or a violation of law.”

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Placement on the job killer list typically spells doom for legislation, even in a state where Democrats control the legislature and governor’s office. Of the 27 bills on the list in 2017, the chamber stopped all but two. The state’s business lobby described the pay discrimination measure as “public shaming of employers”—presumably employers that don’t pay women as they pay men.

The California Chamber of Commerce stood opposed to a range of 2017 bills that aimed to improve the environment and benefit working families across the state.

“There’s no question that industry opposition helped kill this bill,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) told Rewire in an email.  “Change can be threatening to a whole range of interest groups.”

Brown, in his veto message, faulted the legislation’s “ambiguous wording,” saying it could “encourage more litigation than pay equity.”

Brown’s veto comes two months after the Trump administration announced it would end an Obama-era rule on gender gap wage data collection. The rule would have required large employers to report pay data by gender, race, and ethnicity.

A woman earns 80.5 cents for every dollar a man makes, according to a recent analysis of 2016 census figures. Women of color fare worse. Black women are paid 62.5 cents for every dollar a white man makes, while Hispanic women earn 54.4 cents. Over a lifetime, the wage gap costs a Black woman in California $1.05 million, and a Latina $1.6 million.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates it will take until 2043 to close the wage gap in California, while the nation isn’t expected to reach pay parity until 2059. But California narrowed the gender wage gap in public sector pay after a state law required the publication of California civil service salaries.

Gonzalez Fletcher said she plans to reintroduce the pay equity bill.

“We’re not done fighting this battle and I absolutely plan to bring legislation next year to address this issue,” Gonzalez Fletcher said. “The gender pay gap is discrimination, pure and simple, and it will persist until we do something about it.”

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