Tarush Mohanti / Daily Nexus

The bills deal primarily with fair payment, transgender rights and violence prevention

The California State Legislature has recently approved three bills which will go into effect Jan. 1, 2016.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a total of 808 bills in October, a portion of which become effective Jan. 1, 2016, according to his office. The wide range of laws address issues such as water conservation, healthcare benefits and protection for undocumented immigrants.

Senate Bill (SB) 358 — California Fair Pay Act

SB 358, authored by California State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, seeks to address gender wage inequality. The new law prohibits employers from paying employees of one sex wages that are lower than those paid to people of the opposite sex who do “substantially similar work.” The legislation also restricts employers from retaliating against employees who share information about their wage earnings.

Jackson said the California Fair Pay Act is the “strongest equal pay law in the country” in its attempt to eliminate wage discrimination by gender.

“There’s just an assumption that has long been a cultural and social reality that men need to work more than women to provide for families or that men’s work is more valuable than women’s work,” Jackson said. “This is going to hopefully put an end to that concept.”

According to Jackson, employers will begin reviewing their employees’ wages after Jan. 1, 2016 to ensure women receive equal pay to men who are doing “substantially similar work.”

“What we’ll hopefully see is companies proactively reviewing their pay criteria and their actual pay schedules for their workers to make sure that their women employees, who are doing substantially similar work to their male employees, are being paid the same,” Jackson said.

Jackson said female students at UCSB often begin their careers in a difficult situation upon graduation because of the widespread pay discrimination in the workplace.

“When they get out of school, women start off in the workforce by virtue of this kind of discrimination — being paid less than their male counterparts doing the same work,” Jackson said. “What happens when you start off behind the eight ball is you never catch up.”

Jackson said with SB 358 women graduating from UCSB can now challenge employers for discrimination based on wages.

“According to the law that we just passed, if you’re doing substantially similar work you have to be paid the same,” Jackson said. “You have to be paid based upon the work and not upon your gender.”

UCSB Career Service career counselor Lily Maestas said women do not typically negotiate with employers to receive higher wages, which is why women receive lower pay than men in most cases. According to Maestas, the California Fair Pay Act will make negotiating one’s wages more commonplace for women in the future.

“I think that the underlying factor is teaching everyone how to negotiate more and how to advocate for themselves in the job market,” Maestas said. “Oftentimes — what Governor Brown signing this bill is an example of — we have to legislate social change before social change actually becomes more part of the ethos.”
Professor of feminist studies Eileen Boris said although SB 358 is “moving in the right direction” toward erasing gender discrimination in the workforce, it still is not expansive enough to address how most women are institutionally barred from working the same jobs as men.

“The reason that it doesn’t go far enough is precisely because most women prominently work in what we think of as feminized labor — that is, they’re in jobs that are prominently female and are low wage,” Boris said. “Equal pay with men doesn’t get at the undervaluing of many jobs that are dominated by women.”

SB 703 — Recognizing Transgender Rights in the Workplace

SB 703, authored by California State Senator Mark Leno, prohibits state agencies such as the UC from doing business with companies that do not offer transgender employees the same health coverage and benefits they provide other workers. The law specifically prevents a state agency from entering into contract of $100,000 or more with a contractor that discriminates between employees on the basis of gender identity in the provision of benefits.

In a statement released by his office in October, Leno said SB 703 builds on existing law that requires gender nondiscrimination in employee benefits.

“California law already stipulates that employers cannot deny transgender people health care and other benefits, but a loophole in state law has allowed companies that contract with the state to refuse equal health coverage,” Leno said in a statement. “This bill closes that loophole.”

Leno said the new law is designed to address the ethical wrongdoing of discriminating against transgender people in businesses.

“Denying equal benefits to employees at the same company based on gender identity is harmful and wrong,” Leno said in a statement.

Director of UCSB’s Resource Center for Sexual & Gender Diversity David Whitman said this piece of legislation prioritizes the protection of transgender people in the workplace and thus promotes transgender rights in California.

“A law like this is essential for ensuring that transgender people have as many institutional protections, services and resources as possible,” Whitman said in an email. “[SB 703] would signal to employers that transgender people’s identities, issues, and experiences should be prioritized and considered.”

Whitman said supporting companies that harm transgender people obstructs UC’s overall diversity mission to be supportive of identity in all of its forms, but SB 703 ensures that UCSB is properly fulfilling this mission.

“UCSB students can hopefully be proud that their institution aligns itself with companies that are nurturing and support of all people,” Whitman said in an email.

Whitman said he hopes SB 703 will be a step toward enacting more laws that address the concerns of transgender people, such as including protections and support services in healthcare, housing, education, prison systems and immigration.

“It is just one step in a long journey of transgender equality and equity,” Whitman said in an email.

SB 695 — Sexual Violence Prevention Education in High School

SB 695, also authored by California State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, mandates that high school students undergo instruction on sexual harassment and violence prior to graduation.

According to Jackson, the purpose of this law is to teach young people at the earliest possible stage that students can only initiate sexual engagement with explicit and continuous verbal agreement.

“The hope is to educate students at the high school level before they get to college on what healthy relationships are and what assault prevention should look like,” Jackson said.

Jackson said sexual violence prevention training in high school will help students be more sympathetic towards those who are victims of sexual assault.

“It’ll help peers in learning how to be supportive of survivors should an act of sexual assault take place,” Jackson said.

Jackson said SB 695 is part of a larger attempt to shift the cultural norm of sexual violence that exists in California.

“We need to overcome long-term cultural behaviors that exist,” Jackson said. “We can do that with direct student education.”

A version of this story appeared on page 5 of the Thursday, November 19, 2015 print edition of the Daily Nexus.