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Upping the Ante Over Equal Pay in San Jose

3 minute read

Over equal pay in San Jose

The week-old strike of municipal workers in San Jose, Calif, (pop. 650,000), is not hamstringing the city. The money involved is relatively meager, less than a baseball star or network-news anchorman can make in a year. But the dispute is an important one. At issue: equal pay for comparable work, especially for women in low-salary, female-dominated fields.

Says Mayor Janet Gray Hayes: “This is the civil rights issue of the ’80s.” That it is being argued in San Jose is ironic: Hayes heads a mostly female city council and has for years touted her city as “the feminist capital of the world.”

Both the city and the municipal workers’ union agree that jobs traditionally held by women are low paying simply be cause women have tended to hold them.

Two years ago, the city spent $39,000 for a study that made the necessary comparisons of apples and oranges. The mayor’s secretary ($18,000), for instance, was found to be performing work qualitatively equal to that of a senior air-conditioning mechanic and earning 40% less than what the repairman makes ($3 1,000). Librarian Linda Dyde makes $7,700 less than her counterpart, a plant-shift supervisor.

Typist-clerks ($14,300) and grounds keepers ($17,524) are also laboring equally, the study concluded. Says striking Typist-Clerk Jan Piper, 37: “I feel I shouldn’t have to be a grounds keeper to make an adequate living.”

The two sides only disagree over how soon pay scales can be equalized. The strikers demand a commitment of $3.2 million in raises over four years; the city has offered $1.45 million over two years.

Mayor Hayes says the city treasury just cannot afford a quick fix. To Bill Callahan, the union’s chief negotiator, this amounts to “reneging on a commitment to end sex discrimination.”

Callahan says his union is “not planning to bring San Jose to a halt.” Indeed, less than half of the unionized workers are striking, and only the city’s libraries and recreation programs are shut down.

Pickets, undaunted by blistering heat, shuffle outside city hall with pithy placards. One reads: IF I HEAR THE MAYOR SAY THIS IS THE FEMINIST CAPITAL OF THE WORLD AGAIN, I’LL PUKE. Their vigil is evidence that equal pay for comparable work is an issue whose time is about to come. Already a ripple effect is being felt 40 miles north. A San Francisco official last week called for a study to see if that city is paying its employees equitably.

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