'Feminist capital' on rocky journey toward equality

Nancy Clifford is a parks and recreation supervisor in San Jose. This is her busy season, with the kids out of school, but she's not on the job today. She's on strike. The issue: equal pay for equal work by women.

"It hurts me," Ms. Clifford says, "the kids don't have anything to do. But I'm involved in a much bigger issue now."

Barbara Krause, executive assistant to San Jose Mayor Janet Gray Hayes, is not on strike. But she says she and the mayor are as committed to equal pay for women as those who are out on the picket lines.

"We're the first city in the country to address this issue directly," declares Ms. Krause, "the first city to take a step to implement equality."

So why the strike by Local 101 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal workers (AFSME)? And why has Wyn Newman, general counsel for the national union in Washington, filed a complaint against the city of San Jose with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)?

It's a complicated situation -- complicated further by the fact that the union contract ran out June 30, with City Hall and the union, bargaining agent for most of San Jose's 2,000 workers, at odds over an overall wage hike. But basically women workers in nonmanagement jobs feel the city has not moved fast enough or committed enough funds to equalizing their pay with men's.

And what better place to take a stand on the issue than a city billed as "the feminist capital of the world" -- a city with seven women, including the mayor, on its 11- member council, plus women in other top management positions?

In Washington, AFSME president Jerry Wurf said the national union is "committed to seeing that justice is done" in San Jose -- and elsewhere across the nation.

General counsel Newman says the union soon will file an action on equal pay for women against the State of Connecticut. He says other similar complaints to the EEOC, and possibly court suits, will follow.

Meanwhile, San Jose officials ask, "Why us?" All they did was commission a $ 500,000 study by a San Francisco consulting firm which confirmed what San Jose's women workers alredy knew: Wages for municipal jobs traditionally held by women were averaged 15 percent lower than those for "comparable" jobs held mostly by men.

Says Nancy Clifford: "An associate landscape architect for the city gets $1, 204 every two weeks, I get $765. The jobs are on the same level of skill, complexity, and responsibility to the public."

Last May the City Council upgraded pay for 330 women in management jobs. Now the council proposes a two-year, $1.5 million program to bring the city's 700 women workers to within 10 percent of the average salary of all city employees holding comparable jobs.

The union wants a four-year, $3.2 million program to remove pay inequities.

Krause contends such a commitment is not possible. "Proposition 13 dried up revenue," she says, pointing out that San Jose, California's third-largest city, had to lay off 200 city workers last year. For the fiscal year just starting, she adds, revenue is projected to rise just 1 percent.

But Bill Callahan, local AFSME spokesman, says the Prop. 13 effect was a "one- year shortfall." The city has taken a step toward equal pay for women, he admits, but "a step does not complete a journey"

Eleanor Smeal, chairwoman of the National Organization for Women (NOW), says that if studies like the one done in San Jose were conducted by corporations and local governments across the country a general pattern of pay discrimination against women would be evident. She emphasizes that NOW is solidly behind the struggle in San Jose and elsewhere.

Last month the US Supreme Court ruled that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act women may bring equal-pay suits even though comparing their pay with that of men holding somewhat different jobs. The court did not, however, endorse the concept of "comparable worth" -- which would require equal pay for jobs of "equal value," not necessarily identical duties.

"Comparable worth is going to be a key issue for the '80s for women," says Mrs. Smeal. "If it is not solved in the courts, it will be solved by the worke rs themselves -- and the unions."

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