By Lauren Hirsch
Last Monday, the California Legislative Women’s Caucus and the Stronger California Advocates Network launched a bold, progressive state policy agenda called A Stronger Calif♀rnia: Ensuring Economic Security for All Women. The effort is designed to “combat discrimination causing the gender wage gap, increase access to affordable and quality child care, and ensure that workers have more predictable work schedules,” according to Noreen Farrell, Chairwoman of the Network and Executive Director of Equal Rights Advocates (ERA). Progressive women legislators and leading women’s advocacy organizations including ERA and the Women’s Foundation of California, teamed up to produce the proposals.
“Women continue to increase our role and our impact on our economy,” Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins said at a Capitol news conference. “It’s vital we pursue the policies that help ensure opportunity and equality. These actions will help more California woman not only participate in the economic recovery but also in building our economic future.”
Women make up nearly half of the California workforce and comprise the majority of workers in top industries like health care and food and accommodation services that have driven California’s economic recovery. Women now surpass men in attaining college and advanced degrees. Yet the average woman in California still makes only 84 cents to every dollar a man earns, with Latina women earning only 44 cents to the dollar. California ranks 27th in the nation for access to early childhood education. California parents still lack adequate protection against losing their jobs if a child-care emergency arises, often forcing them to choose between caring for their children and putting food on the table.
The proposed legislative agenda addresses key areas of need for California’s women and their families. Here is a sample:
- California Fair Pay Act (SB 358 Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson) closes loopholes that let employers justify paying women less and protects employees from retaliation for inquiring about wage differences.
- Minimum Wage Increase and Indexing (SB 3 Senator Connie Leyva & Senator Mark Leno) raises the California minimum wage to $11 in 2016 and $13 in 2017, and indexes minimum wage to inflation so that wages keep pace with the economy.
- Raising Child Care Quality and Accessibility Act (SB 548 Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins & Senator Pro Tem Kevin de Léon) creates new child care slots to help close the gap between children who need child care and those who have it, supports additional training for child care providers, and establishes the right of child care workers to collectively bargain.
- Fair Scheduling Act (AB 357 Assemblywoman Shirley Weber & Assemblyman David Chiu) grants workers the right to have a predictable work schedule to protect food and retail industry workers from fluctuating work schedules that hinder them from planning for child-care, making or attending doctor’s appointments, and pursuing further education and training.
While women make up just 26% of the California Legislature and progressive women account for just 16%, our progressive women legislators continue to lead the way in providing crucial leadership on issues of poverty, worker’s rights, women’s rights, and support for families. Imagine the policy outcomes in a legislature that actually reflects the residents of California!
“We are at an important juncture for California and California women, a place where we both can make a difference and recognize that a difference needs to be made,” Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, Chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, said in a statement. “This isn’t just about the pocketbooks of California’s families, although that’s important. This is also about building a strong future for all of California.”