Bargaining for Pay Equity

Bargaining for Pay Equity


Lucy Parsons worked for the city as a Librarian. As the Union Steward, she was getting ready for negotiations with the city by looking at the pay schedules for all the different departments. One thing grabbed her attention. The lowest paying job for the Department of Public Works paid more than the highest paid job in the Library. Lucy asked some of the people with high seniority why that was. Basically she was told it had always been that way because mainly men worked for the DPW and woman worked in the Library. "That's not right," Lucy thought, "jobs shouldn't be paid according to which sex works on them."

All Union people know that a basic way to achieve fairness is to live by the motto "Equal Pay for Equal Work." This means that people doing the same job should receive the same base pay. There may be some differentials added to people's pay to reflect working second or third shift, or bonuses added for years of service, but the base pay is equal. This prevents management from playing favorites and discriminating against workers.

Lucy's problem is a question of "Pay Equity" which means equal pay for work of equal value. This means that jobs could be totally different but when you add up all the component parts of the job, they are equal.

The fight for pay equity has shown that in many cases the basis of the difference in pay is because of discrimination, either against women or minorities. In the past many companies openly based job rates upon sex. UE battled with General Electric and Westinghouse Corporation for years to eliminate "women's rates," which of course were lower then men's pay rates. The steel industry was notorious for only hiring African-American workers for the worst, most dangerous jobs, which were the lowest paid.

Sample Job Evaluation Comparison
*Points are given on a scale of 1-5
Library DPW
Knowledge & education level 4 2
Experience 3 1
Initiative and ingenuity 2 2
Physical demand 1 5
Mental or visual demand 4 2
Responsibility for equipment or process 2 4
Responsibility for material or product 3 2
Responsibility for safety of others 1 5
Responsibility for work of others 2 0
Working conditions, and hazards 1 5
Complexity of duties 4 2
Importance of not making errors 2 2
Contact with others 4 2
Ability to work with confidential data 3 1
Total Points 36 35

Most job evaluation systems rate jobs based upon different elements that each job may contain. A typical set of elements are show in the table at right.

In Lucy's situation the city has written job evaluations that give points on a scale of 1 to 5 for the different criteria such as education, working conditions, and responsibility. Five points would mean working conditions are very bad or a high level of education is needed, while one point would mean good working conditions or very little education needed. Lucy and the other Librarians sit down and take a look at the job evaluations. The men on the refuse trucks get more points for bad and dangerous working conditions but the women get more points for having clerical skills, library skills, education, and for working with the public.

When they add up the points that each job was allotted they find out that the two jobs have just about equal points. Why the pay difference? Discrimination. There is no other answer. Many years ago when the pay was set, the people in charge decided that "women's work" wasn't worth as much as "men's work." This is a good example of what is meant by "pay equity" or "equal worth."

Lucy and the Union then prepared their case for the upcoming set of negotiations. They made sure that everyone understood that the idea wasn't to downgrade the work that the men on the rubbish trucks do, but to get recognition that jobs of equal worth deserve equal pay.

The union members prepared their case using the evaluation system in place to show the city officials what they meant by "equal worth." They were careful not to accuse the current city officials personally of discrimination, because they had inherited the situation. In the end, the Union prevailed and a plan for upgrading the library jobs was agreed to.

NOTE: When using an already established evaluation system, be aware that some of the old systems have discrimination built into them. They discounted skills that were considered "women's," such as dexterity and gave them less points than skills that were "men's," such as a job requiring strength.

What if there is no written job evaluation system?

Then the Union will have to make one up themselves, using the criteria set out above. The easiest way to start is to pick two high paying jobs that receive the same pay, but are different, and begin to assign them points for each of the different criteria. The basic guideline here is to use common sense, and develop arguments that will even make sense to the boss. Remember you are using this to convince the employer that there has been discrimination in the past on how different jobs were slotted into different pay grades.

Here are some bargaining tips:

  • Do your homework. Make sure that you have all the facts before arguing your case. Be sure to talk to all the workers involved so you have a complete picture of what the job entails. Pay equity cases are generally used to correct long-time discrimination. They are not used to get Harry an upgrade because he feels he is a better worker then Ralph.
  • Be prepared for a long fight. Just because we have a good argument doesn't mean the employer will give in immediately. The Union must be prepared to keep up the fight.
  • Make sure all the members understand what this is about. The employer may try to get members fighting over pay equity issues. Just like the example with Lucy, it was important that the DPW workers understood that the Librarians weren't putting them down, they just wanted equality. It is important that all workers understand why the fight against discriminatory pay systems is important.
  • Don't let the employer turn a pay equity case that is really about discrimination into a "general" re-evaluation of everybody's jobs. Often the employer will propose bringing in an "outside consultant" to do a complete study of all the jobs. Then as part of this "study" the employer will propose downgrading one set of jobs in order to upgrade another. This is just their way of trying to undermine the Union and cause fighting among the membership.
  • Be prepared to work out a settlement that will raise wages over a period of time in order to achieve your goal of pay equity. Don't let the employer create a situation where a general wage increase for everyone is pitted against the pay equity increase.

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