Equal pay the San Jose way

It was good to read that the San Jose municipal workers' strike against sex discrimination had ended with "both sides pleased." For it is important that the drive toward equal pay for "comparable" work by men and women proceed without divisiveness in the spirit that what is fair for one is fair for all. Last month's Supreme Court ruling in an Oregon case opened the door to legal action by women alleging pay discrimination whether or not in jobs exactly the same as men. Now San Jose has become the nation's first city to confront the question through the collective bargaining that is expected to be a growing means toward achieving wage equity between the sexes.

A familiar example of inequity is the children's day-care worker, usually a woman, paid less than a janitor, usually a man. Nurses and accountants have been suggested as comparable in this sense, though not the same. The issue arose in San Jose after a commissioned study rated almost 300 city jobs and found many filled by women to be underpaid. For instance, by such criteria as accountability, problem-solving, and know- how, the study gave the same job value to legal secretaries and instrument repair technicians -- though the secretaries were paid almost $9,500 a year less than the technicians.

The strike settlement included not only general cost-of-living increases but a two- year program to bring the pay in more than sixty job classifications filled mainly by women to within 10 percent of comparable categories filled mainly by men. Further reduction in inequities is expected to be sought in the future.

The kind of problem that San Jose is now so laudably addressing can be traced in part to well-intentioned protective regulations for women workers. Some of these were lifted during World War II so that women could take -- and prove that they could handle -- factory and other jobs ordinarily held by men. After the war the government urged women to return to the home, and most of these jobs were given again to men as protective regulations for women were restored. The upshot was a stereotyping of men's and women's jobs, with men tending to get the unionized and more highly paid ones. Some companies were found to have "evaluated" their jobs and decided to pay less for those that were filled with women.

Such practices and attitudes have reechoed to the point where a basic question is whether some jobs pay less than others because they are worth less or simply because they tend to be held by women. At any rate, an estimated 80 percent of the recent so-called flood of women into the workforce has been into clerical, service, and other jobs pegged at lower wages.

The need is evident to continue the effort to determine the proper pay for jobs on their merits and pay this to the jobholder without rega rd to sex.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.