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California Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Landmark Gender Wage Gap Bill

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) at the Richmond signing ceremony of the Fair Pay Act. (Photo: Governor's Office)

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) at the Richmond signing ceremony of the Fair Pay Act. (Photo: Governor’s Office)

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on Tuesday aimed at closing the wage gap between men and women. Supporters hailed the legislation as the strongest yet enacted in the nation to tackle the persistent gender wage gap.

Brown signed SB 358, the California Fair Pay Act, before a gathering of women and girls at Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park in Richmond, the Associated Press reports. Calling the legislation “a very important milestone,” the governor said the measure would help remedy a situation in which California’s female workers only earn 84 cents for every dollar paid to men. Among black and Latino women, the disparity is even worse.

“The inequities that have plagued our state and have burdened women forever are slowly being resolved with this kind of bill,” said Brown. “The stratification and the pay disparities in California and in America, probably in the world, are something that really eats away at our whole society.”

SB 358 was authored by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) and protects employees from retaliation for discussing their pay at work. It also enables individuals to challenge disparities in pay between workers doing the same or similar jobs.

“Today is a momentous day for California, and it is long overdue,” Jackson told Reuters. “Equal pay isn’t just the right thing for women, it’s the right thing for our economy and for California.”

Jennifer Reisch, legal director of the San Francisco-based civil rights group Equal Rights Advocates—which sponsored the legislation, hailed its passage.

“By closing loopholes in California’s equal pay law and expanding protections against retaliation, the Fair Pay Act will encourage more women to ask questions and demand fair compensation,” Reisch said in a statement.

Actress Patricia Arquette, whose February Academy Awards speech calling for equal pay for women helped motivate lawmakers to act, welcomed the new law as “a critical step toward ensuring that women in California are seen and valued as equals.”

The California Chamber of Commerce had initially opposed the bill, but changed its stance last week after determining the measure achieved “fair balance” between employers and workers. The bill was also supported by many Republican lawmakers.

But others said the new law will harm business in the nation’s most populous state. J. Al Latham Jr., a labor law attorney and lecturer at the University of Southern California (USC) Gould School of Law, told the Los Angeles Times that the law “is going to lead to lots more litigation, which further weakens the business climate in California.”

Geoff DeBoskey, another labor lawyer, agreed, telling theTimes that employers will simply “move operations and grow elsewhere.”

“If an employer is going to build a new call center, they are just not going to build that in California,” said DeBoskey.

Supporters of the measure counter that if employers are not willing to pay men and women equally for equal work, then good riddance to them.

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