To all my working sisters out there, today is the day that our pay finally catches up with the men’s. Yes, it’s true Virginia, there still is sexism.
That sexism isn’t as visible to most of us as it once was. But it’s still institutionalized in many kinds of jobs. As my celebration of Equal Pay Day, I offer the following example:
About 8 years ago, I went to work for a local union in California where I represented classified school employees. Classified workers are secretaries, janitors, school bus drivers, food service workers, instructional aides–basically anyone who works in a school or school district who is not either a faculty member or a boss. In one of my shops, I represented a wall-to-wall unit, which included both the service and maintenance unit (traditionally male) and the clerical and food service unit (traditionally female). After I had been working with these folks for a few months, I had to bargain a wage reopener, and I took a good long look at their salary schedule for the first time.
What I found when I did that was that the positions that had historically been held by women (secretary, instructional aide, food service worker) were paid on average $3.00 per hour less than the jobs that historically had been held by men (janitor, groundskeeper, delivery driver). There were not that many differences in the job requirements for these positions (janitors had to be able to lift a certain amount of weight, secretaries had to type a certain amount of words per minute)–essentially, they had always been held by people with the same basic educational requirements. Mostly, working class folks with a high school education–possibly an associates degree. Some of the higher skilled jobs occupied by both genders had more requirements (certification for bus mechanics, advanced computer training for bookkeepers), but no position in the entire bargaining unit required a college degree, or any advanced education.
The main difference that I could determine in the positions was that historically, the women who had filled the clerical, food service, and aide positions had taken those jobs so that they could work on the school schedule while their kids were in school. They didn’t have reliable summer programs, or after-school care–it was just easier for them to work in the district, and have the flexibility that came with that schedule. But it ended up costing them a lot.
$3.00 per hour times 40 hours in a work week is $120 per week. Now most of these folks were school-year only employees–they didn’t work a full 52 weeks, but closer to 36. What it basically boiled down to is that, for these women, their choice to work in a clerical job meant they lost about $4,320 per year. Not because they were less skilled than the men. Because they took pink collar jobs.
The district’s argument, when we brought it up to them, was they had to pay the janitors and other ‘male’ positions more, because they did things like handle chemicals. I’m not trying to disparage the work of janitors in any way–I had some great janitor members working in that district, and they were hard working people. But even those janitors would admit that their jobs weren’t harder than the clerical jobs–just different from them. The men in those jobs knew they didn’t deserve to make $3.00 per hour more than the women in the clerical jobs–they knew that sexism (although they wouldn’t call it that) had put them in a position to make more money than their sisters in the pink collars. And ultimately, they knew that to make a more just situation for their co-workers, they were going to have to accept less themselves. That if the district had only so much money to go to raises, and they wanted to begin to address the issue of parity, they would have to take a smaller percentage raise, with the ‘women’s’ jobs getting slightly more.
Parity didn’t get achieved with that wage reopener. We made small steps toward it, and small steps the following year. I left the union after that, but I know that for at least the next year, they made some small other progress, because the person who replaced me called to talk about it. I hope that progress is still being made there.
For more info on Equal Pay Day, get a cluw.