Making the Grade - Job Evaluation Schemes

Protecting Your Members From Phony Job Evaluation Schemes

Making the Grade – Job Evaluation Schemes


  • Supposedly "scientific" systems used by employers to classify jobs have been around for awhile — but don't be fooled by the "scientific" label: these are only methods of justifying what the employer wants to pay ... and can be very subjective and unfair.
  • By understanding the pitfalls of these systems, stewards can actually use them to protect the rights of the members on the job.

Here’s the situation. A group of workers come to you, the steward, to request that their jobs be upgraded. They tell you that their machines have been modified and many other changes have been made to their jobs. You approach the supervisor about this. He tells you that although changes were made to the jobs, these changes didn’t warrant enough new "points" to pay more money. The supervisor tells you that the company’s new job evaluation system is based upon "scientific studies" and therefore cannot be challenged.

What’s This All About?

Supposedly scientific systems that employers use for classifying jobs have been around for awhile. While they may on the surface appear to be "scientific," in fact they are just methods of justifying what the employer wants to pay.

The most common of these systems go something like this. Each job is broken up into a series of "factors" and are given points based upon the factors. The factors used to evaluate each job usually are education, experience, initiative and ingenuity, physical demand, mental or visual, responsibility for equipment or process, responsibility for material or product, responsibility for the safety of others, working conditions, responsibility for the work of others, and hazards. The idea is that management just has to sit down and decide which degree of each factor applies to the job in question.

What’s Wrong With This?

On the surface this looks like a fair system to evaluate jobs, but there are several problems that stewards must be aware of.

The first problem is deciding which "degree" a job deserves, and therefore how many points it receives is very subjective, that is it is up to the bosses judgement and not based on facts. That can led to favoritism. For example, under "Initiative and Ingenuity," a basic degree calls for "using judgement to plan." The next degree calls for "using considerable judgement to plan." After that, the next degree calls for using "outstanding judgement." If we try to argue what these small variations mean we usually lose the argument.

The next problem is that the boss decides how many points make up each labor grade. There maybe a big spread for each grade, like in the example above. Thus even if the boss agrees that the job deserves to be upgraded from education degree 2 to education degree 3, that probably won’t give enough points to put the job into a new labor grade.

Finally, the system doesn’t weigh each factor as equally important. In the most common system, education degrees are worth 14 points, but each degree for hazards are worth only 5 points. In the past many jobs that required skilled use of the hands and assembly of small parts were deemed "woman's work." It is not surprising that in most job evaluation systems mental or visual skills are worth fewer points. The prejudices that the developers of this system had are built into the system.

The Truth About Pay Rates

The system doesn’t determine the pay. A skilled computer programmer in one workplace earning $20 per hour may have the exact same number of points as another programmer in a different workplace who is earning $16 per hour. Negotiations and union strength determine the pay scales. If the employer is afraid of dissatisfied employees, afraid of a well organized workforce, then the worker will get the job upgrade, and the points be damned.

Is There Any Way To Use These Systems?

We can beat these systems providing we really understand all the pitfalls. The basic use of these systems is as an outline of the different factors that go into a job. Forget about the points and use the factors as a way to remind yourself of all the things to consider when making the argument for a job upgrade.

A final point, always remember that the highest pay in a workplace depends on the lowest. There is a firm relationship between the two. The best way to guarantee pay raises for skilled workers is to make sure the entry level jobs get big raises too.

The Dirty Origins Of
"Scientific Evaluations"

The most prevalent evaluation system in the USA was developed by an association of employers determined to stop unions.

One of the first "scientific" job evaluation schemes — and one that was in widespread use during the 20th century — was the  "National Position Plan (NPEP). "  But one of it's real uses was far more sinister than providing "scientific job evaluations".

NPEP was advertised as being "originally written and owned by the NMTA (National Metal Trades Association) [and] is the first and most popular point/factor evaluation system in existence."

Who was the NMTA that developed it?

NMTA was an organization of employers in the metal working industry that was formed in the early part of this century to stop unions. Companies that were members of the NMTA paid dues and in turn were provided with spies that worked in their factories and ratted on workers who talked pro-union.

In the case of a strike, the NMTA guaranteed to replace 70 percent of the workforce with scabs. They provided thugs to attack the workers.

In testimony before Congress in 1936 it was shown they provided Lake Erie Chemical Company with the following to use in breaking a strike: five sawed off shotguns, five tear gas guns, long range guns, one case of long range tear gas shell, small arms ammunition, shotgun shells and a bushel basket of revolvers and automatic pistols!

Members of the NMTA were forbidden by their constitution to settle a strike with a union. The NMTA job evaluation system was developed as a gimmick to keep unions out of the shops. The system was supposedly fair and scientific. Whenever there was a dispute over a job evaluation, the NMTA representative would come to the factory as a "neutral expert" and give the decision as to whether a job should be upgraded or downgraded. Of course, the NMTA was handsomely paid by the company.


For more information on the dirty deeds of the NMTA and other employer groups like them, see Them and Us, pages 102-116, or find a copy of The Labor Spy Racket by Leo Huberman. You’ll probably have to look in a library or used book store, as it was published in 1936.


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