Pay equity for jobs held by women:how states and cities put it into practice

There are many roads to ``comparable worth'' -- that is, paying the same salaries for jobs dominated by women as for comparable jobs dominated by men. The common road is to let the courts resolve the issue. The first major victory for comparable worth came out of a long court battle between a public-employees union and Washington State in 1982.

The biggest comparable-worth victory came through a political avenue. Early this year the Minnesota Legislature decided to adjust the salaries of 8,000 workers upward about $40 million over the next four years.

But the most painless victory came out of old-fashioned collective bargaining last month in Los Angeles.

``Nothing very mysterious, complicated, or scientific about it,'' says J. R. Selmer, the city official in charge of the negotiation. Unlike other cases, no detailed studies were done or sophisticated formulas drafted, he stresses. Union officials -- from the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees -- and city officials familiar with the jobs, the work force, and the pay scale sat down and figured out a plan using ``a common-sense approach,'' he says.

The city agreed to raise the wage-scales of 3,900 employees over the next three years in clerical and librarian jobs, which are disproportionately held by women. The plan will cost the city roughly $12 million. After the adjustment, entry-level wages for a clerk typist will be roughly equal to those of a garage attendant or maintenance laborer.

Los Angeles, prodded by two lawsuits brought by the union through the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, concluded that women in certain jobs were indeed underpaid. The city noted that clerks, mostly women, were paid 15 percent less at entry level than were men who held jobs that also required high school education and no experience.

``Los Angeles took a very pragmatic approach,'' says City Councilor Joy Picus. ``We didn't do the big studies. We just saw that pay gap, and there was no justification for it.''

One advantage of the city's collective-bargaining approach is that it helps to win the support of people who are ``uncomfortable with the whole idea'' of comparable worth -- with its attendant images of wages governed by charts and formulas.

The real comparable-worth issue is simply one of remedying discrimination in pay, says Councilor Picus. ``It's historical discrimination. Traditional, habitual discrimination, not deliberate. But it hurts people just the same.''

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