When some Reagan appointee ridicules women's demands for equal pay for work of comparable value, I'm angered but not surprised. But when Robus of attacks upon comparable worth (Business and Finance, April 17), it's time to respond.
Samuelson writes that "Comparable worth's illusion is that the relative worth of different skills, working conditions and responsibilities can be distilled into formula." He contends that comparable worth would create an economic nightmare, with judges and bureaucrats evaluating every worker's job and setting wages by fiat.
In fact, many employers -- including large corporations and the federal, state and local governments -- already have pay scales based upon job evaluation systems that supposedly rate jobs in terms of their responsibility, effort, training and working conditions. The problem is: These job evaluation systems are biased against jobs traditionally held by women. For instance, New York City pays its police dispatchers several thousand dollars less than its fire dispatchers. The reason isn't that the jobs have different responsibilities but that the police dispatchers are mostly women, while the fire dispatchers are mostly men. The undervaluing of women's jobs is a big part of the explanation why working women still earn only about 60 percent as much as working men.
Comparable worth introduces fairness -- not complexity -- into job evaluations and pay scales. Where employers already have intricate job-evaluation procedures and pay plans, comparable worth provides that women's jobs are evaluated -- and paid -- fairly. Where employers have simpler pay plans, working women simply demand substantial increases to ensure they're paid what they're worth.
Advocates of comparable worth prefer to win pay equity at the bargaining table, seeking help from legislative bodies whenever possible and going to the courts only when absolutely necessary. For instance, the Communications Workers of America negotiated creation of a joint CWA-AT&T Occupational Job Evaluation Committee to upgrade jobs that were held traditionally by women in the Bell System. Using the findings of this study, CWA has negotiated substantial improvements in wages and promotion procedures, pushing women's pay to more than 80 percent of men's pay. That's not nearly good enough, but it's better than almost any other major industry or employer.
Despite decades of progress on women's rights, more than 80 percent of women workers are still confined to an occupational ghetto of 25 predominantly female occupations, and pay for these jobs is still held down by sex discrimination. Comparable worth concerns all working people. We must end "institutionalized inferiority" by calling on government and industry to develop objective job-evaluation systems that relate realistically to the changes occurring in the world of work. A commitment to comparable worth ensures that it's what you do, not who you are that matters in the work place. Far from being an idea that, in Samuelson's view, will "ultimately collapse of its own weight," comparable worth is an idea whose time has come.