Senator Seeks To Add ‘Race And Ethnicity’ To Toughest Gender ‘Fair Pay’ Law In The Nation

The toughest fair pay law in the nation may be about to get tougher.

Sen. Isadore Hall (D), of California, recently introduced a proposal expanding on the state’s 2015 “fair pay law,” SB 358, going beyond providing equal pay protection for women, but for people of color, as well. Hall seeks to include “race or ethnicity” in the fair pay law so employers would have to “justify any pay discrepancies between those who do ‘substantially similar’ work.”

SB 358 grants employees the right to challenge unfair pay should one feel he or she is being paid less than deserved, and less than one’s male coworkers. Should Hall’s initiative come to pass, the same would go for people of color who feel they are not being paid their fair pay in comparison to their white coworkers. The expansion is “scheduled to be heard in committee for the first time Wednesday.”

Hall’s move on behalf of the state of California is unprecedented. According to NBC Bay Area:

“No state or federal employment law has forced employers to prove they’re not underpaying workers based on any characteristic other than their sex.”

Hall stated:

“No one should be paid less than what they’re worth and no one should be discriminated against because of the hue of their skin or their gender. This is the most robust racial equality bill in the nation.”

Not surprisingly at all, there are those worried Hall is gunning for too much change too fast. They worry that granting fair pay protection to people of color will upset those businesses who fought to keep race out of the 2015 bill. NBC reports:

“Racial discrimination was strategically left out of that law to ensure its passage.”

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson stated regarding the strategy behind passing SB 358:

“The goal is to get to a place where we’re all paid fairly for our work. I don’t know if we can accomplish that all at once.”

How such a statement is supposed to be accepted by our brothers and sisters of color is perplexing–We’ll get there, but excuse us as we step on you to do so.

Jackson’s statement begs the question: Why the hell not? Is it really too much to expect the law to enforce equal pay for all via the dark horse of legislation than it is to ask it to protect women alone? Where do women of color fall into this equation? How could disparate pay for a woman of color be determined to be due to her race or her gender in order to know if the law does or does not protect her? Hall’s proposed expansion is both sensible and constitutional.

Apparently, there is a concern in adding “race and ethnicity” to the 2015 law that “data signifying a racial pay gap includes numerous underlying variables that experts say may obscure the true disparity.”

Legal director at Equal Rights Advocates, Jennifer Reisch, said:

“There is plenty of evidence to show women of color are facing lower pay for many reasons and one of those reasons is the combination of race and gender, but a lot of it is explained by other factors as well.”

Why additional factors piling up against women of color, when it comes to fair pay, should somehow result in them becoming the sacrificial lamb in the equation defies logic, humanity, and serves to underline the racism so prevalent in the United States.

(Image by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr)

According to the National Women’s Law Center, among the 60 percent of women making up California’s minimum wage workers, most are women of color. That’s quite a lot of women who will inevitably fall in the cracks of last year’s legislation.

NBC Bay Area reports:

“Compared to their non-Hispanic, white male counterparts in California, Latinas made 43 cents to every dollar, Native American women made 50 cents, black women made 63 cents and Asian American women made 72 cents in 2014, according to NWLC’s study of U.S. Census Bureau surveys. Across the country, white women make about 77 percent of what white men make.”

That’s rough, to say the least.

Employment attorney Donna Rutter thinks race and ethnicity should certainly be added to the law, but said doing so would also mean adding further protections for the elderly, the young, the disabled, discrimination based on sexual preference and/or identity, as well as religion. She stated “monitor[ing] workers’ traits” could become “increasingly difficult.” While true, it’s also an incredibly easy concept to grasp that those doing the same work deserve the same pay, regardless of any of those traits, qualities and identities mentioned above, and it becomes even easier if, say, a law were passed to mandate it.

Sen. Isadore Hall is doing her best to make sure one such law is passed. Well done.

Featured image by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr, available under Creative Commons license.