California is often a national bellwether for laws favored by worker and consumer-rights groups. The legislature sent Gov. Jerry Brown a pair of bills in the recent session that women’s rights advocates support, and many employers — led by the California Chamber of Commerce — strongly oppose.

AB 1209 — the Gender Pay Gap Transparency Act — would require companies with 500 or more employees in California to report the gap between men’s and women’s pay for salaried workers, by job classification, and board members. The information would be posted publicly by the state. AB 168 would amend the state’s employment laws to ban employers from asking a job candidate about their previous salary or salary history (job candidates could still volunteer the information unsolicited, without penalty to the employer).

Both bills are aimed at closing the gender pay gap.

“Equal pay is very high on the agenda politically, it polls well,” said Ariane Hegewisch, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research program director for employment and earnings. “Fairness matters to women and men.”

Hegewisch said that pay equity laws and policies put in place in the past several decades substantially narrowed the earnings gap. Women working full time earned about 60 percent of what men earned in 1980, according to census data analyzed by the National Women’s Law Center. Women earn about 80 percent of what men do now; the figure is slightly higher in California.

But Hegewisch said that progress toward pay equity has stalled since the Great Recession.

“It has stagnated,” Hegewisch said. “We know women are outpacing men in education. The differences in time out of work for kids and so on have shrunk quite significantly. Something is wrong, and we need try some things to get things moving.”


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