In Boston, last year's winner of the "Petty Office Procedure" contest was a secretary who was required to sew a rip in her boss's pants - while he was wearing them.
Runner-up was a secretary who had to dress up as a bumble bee - her company's symbol - and hand out advertising literature on street corners.
All across the country there are other bosses with equally winning ways - an executive who made his secretary take "before" and "after" pictures when he shaved off his moustache, another who asked his secretary to put mayonnaise on his plants because he heard that made them grow better, another who fired his office worker, when she refused to return to a cafeteria in the pouring rain to exchange a corned beef sandwich on white for one on rye. Another demanded that is secretary keep him supplied with carrots while he dieted.
Rebelling against such unfair work conditions and practices - many of which are written into job descriptions - 3,000 women office workers have formed organizations in more than a dozen American cities, including Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Daytion, New York, San Francisco and Detroit.
Most examples of inequities involve male bosses and female office workers - which in general, reflects Americans corporate make-up. Organization members estimate 90 per cent of U.S. office workers are female. Some interviewed said they preferred to work for the relatively few women bosses. "Women have more understanding," says Elizabeth Schneider.
Schneider is one of five women in the Washington area - with its thousands of federal employees and law office personnel - who have just begun to join the fight. They have formed "60 Words Per Minute," a group so new that they have not started a membership drive, have not had fundraisers and are vague about what to do with members once they get them.
"Our goal is to help office workers become articulate and to find positive strategy to correct their problems," says Carole MacGaffin, who gives no examples of "positive strategy."
"It's strange that it has taken Washington so long to catch on. You'd think it would be a hotbed of activity, but perhaps federal employees feel they are better paid than most office workers or are frightened about their jobs. We have to proceed slowly; we don't want to threaten them" she adds.
The group has one staff member, Schneider whom Vista pays $3,000 annually to organize the women. Schneider recalls one of her previous jobs. "I had to get lunch for my boss meetings - contact seven people from seven different offices and find out what they wanted to eat, order it, pick it up. It just seemed a waste of my time order ham-on-rye and hold the mustard and all of that when I had so many other things to do."
Women in groups across the country are bolstered by each other's experiences and by the fact they are not alone.
One of the most effective is Boston's 5-year-old "9 to 5" - 500 women turned into Ralph Naders in their zeal to upgrade office workers' jobs.
With an annual budget of $60,000 - from dues and fund-raises such as bake sales - they pressure companies to write up job descriptions, define firing policies. The women monitor affirmative action, file complaints against and pressure the government to investigate companies with federal contracts who do not comply with affirmative action, and hold "Petty Office Procedure" contests to dramatize the plight of office workers."
They even founded a union, Local 925 (clerical workers are seldom organized), affiliated with the Service Employees International Union.
One "9 to 5" founder, Ellen Cassedy, was an office worker at Harvard University until the day her boss came out and told her it was her boss came out and told her it was her job to take the calendar off the wall - the calender on his door. Another, Judy McCullough, after working part-time for an insurance company for more than three years, went full-time only to find that none of her past experi-
"We've won all kinds of things - vacation or pension.
"We find that women repeatedly call with similar examples. They are asked to do personal chores, they are victims of the "Friday Afternoon firing." The boss calls them in 10 minutes before closing on a Friday and tells them not to come in on Monday. There is no warning and unless they can prove discrimination because of sex, age or race, it is very difficult to have any recourse," says McCullough.
Karen Nussbaum, a 27-year-old former Minneapolis clerk-typist, now directs the Working Women Orginaizing Project in Cleveland, which instructs women office workers on effective protest tactics. ence counted for accruted sick leave, from changing desks around to geting back pay and increase in salaries. These women get support from an organization that will make their problems public. When a women was fired in Chicago for not getting coffee, 40 members picketed and protested. She was rehired," says Nussbaum.
In the past year, Nussbaum has moved into smaller - cities - helping organized groups in Brattleboro, Vt.; Concord, N.H.; Hartford and New Haven, Conn.; Providence, R.I.
The Boston office worker who was fired for not getting corned-beef-on-rye worked for a lawyer. "9 to 5" picketed, the office and passed out leaflets, was written up in the local newspaper and filed a charge with the Massachusetts Bar Association board of overseers, who investigate unethical behavior of employers.
"They never had a case like this before. They refused to investigate. It is tough when all the women are secretaries and all the men are lawyers," says McCullough.
This is one reason the groups are pushing for written job descriptions. "It defines your position - when you begin to do more, you would have some recourse to get more money and a higher job title. What usually happens is we take on more and more responsibility and get no credit for it," says McCullough.
Members of Congress enjoy immunity from the laws they have passed to protect employees in the private sector. They simply exempted themselves from all antidiscrimination laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay. There is no union, no job security, no appeal if one gets fired. Secretaries, office workers, even professional staffers have been asked to do such personal things as tend bar or do homework for children of members of Congress and can fired if they don't.
After the Elizabeth Ray-Wayne Hays scandal, a voluntary Employee Right Committee for the House was formed by two members of Congress. Many members resisted the proposal, and make jokes about it on the House floor - even though this proposal has no enforcement provisions. Now, 106 members belong to the commitee, but it basically will handle complaints based on discrimination.
"There is absolutely no group on the Hill to upgrade joos of secretaries," says Linda Lipson of the Congressional Clearing House on Women's rights.
Moreover, she predicts that a group such as "60 Words Per Minute" would have a hard time recruiting on the Hill. "Secretaries up here aren't exactly politically conscious."