Lawmakers should approve gender, economic equity bills

An illustration of the lack of equity between men and women. (Image: Thapana Studio, via Shutterstock)

California has always been a leader in positive social change, and 2022 has the potential to be another landmark year. Standing in stark contrast to states across the country that are rolling back gender justice rights, Golden State legislators are poised to vote on a series of bills—priorities of the Stronger California Advocates Network—that will do more to keep women in the workforce and support families than in any state in the nation. These bills come at a crucial time given the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade, showing it’s more urgent than ever before to uphold and strengthen women’s rights.

Legislation introduced this session tackles gender and race-based pay inequities; the lack of bereavement leave for workers; fast-food worker abuse; limited access to paid family leave; unsustainable child care costs; abortion rights, and more. These bills are aimed at helping women, and women of color in particular, support their families and ultimately lead financially secure lives.

During the pandemic, women lost jobs at higher rates than men, and while men have regained all their jobs lost, women (and even more so women of color) still lag behind. Considering that two-thirds of working mothers in America are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, it is critical that women are at the center of economic recovery efforts here in California.

That’s why the Stronger California Advocates Network, a group founded and chaired by Equal Rights Advocates, is prioritizing a slate of legislation that will advance economic and civil rights for women and low-income families across the state.

The pandemic highlighted the necessity of these reforms, as many struggled through job and income insecurity and without savings to weather such a crisis. Robust pay equity bills like SB 1162 (Limón), the Pay Transparency for Pay Equity Act, are even more critical now as women who had to leave the workforce to care for family during the pandemic are slowly making their way back to a wage penalty of 7-15% less than their prior pay. SB 1162 would require employers with 15 or more employees to include salary ranges in job postings and would require employers with 100 or more contract workers—who are more likely to be women and people of color and are often paid less than direct hires—to submit pay data reports to the Department of Fair Employment & Housing for those workers, broken down by gender, race, and ethnicity.

AB 257, the FAST Recovery Act (Holden), is first-of-its-kind legislation aimed at giving fast food workers more power in their workplaces and a seat at the decision-making table to combat rampant sexual harassment, wage theft, and other workplace abuses. Nearly 80% of fast food workers are immigrants or people of color and two-thirds are women.

The pandemic also put a fine point on the effects of caretaking on women’s economic stability. Black and Latinx breadwinners in our Family Voices survey told us how the disruption from the pandemic has forced a delay in finding new and better employment. The U.S Department of Labor confirms that mothers lag far behind fathers in their return to work. Parents and other caregivers, who are predominantly women, often face barriers to accessing leave when they need it, which can cause them to be pushed out of their jobs. AB 1041 (Wicks) would give workers the right to take leave from work to care for chosen and extended family, making our paid sick leave and family medical leave laws more accessible and equitable.

And with the Supreme Court’s devastating opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturning the right to abortion, the Agenda also includes a bill that advances reproductive justice and abortion rights, which are critical to women’s professional advancement and economic security.

In order for the Golden State to be a beacon for individuals and families being persecuted in other states, it is imperative we put policies in place that lift up our residents and lead the way for the rest of the nation. These bills are facing final floor votes in the California legislature soon. A yes vote will strengthen our economies and our communities.

Noreen Farrell is the executive director of gender justice organization Equal Rights Advocates and a civil rights attorney

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