Friday, May 09, 2014

Equal pay for equal work; will it work?

In “Minimum Wage, Inflation, and Personal Experience” (Reader Weekly 2014-03-27) I wrote that I didn’t think wages for many jobs had kept up with inflation.  At least in Minnesota that seems to have been ameliorated a bit.  Congress is still dithering about a minimum wage with the usual suspects filibustering it.  Those members of Congress who think that Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” is determining wages should read his words about masters organizing to keep wages down.

Now the hot legislative topic is “equal pay for equal work”.  And again, the masters will probably have more sway than the workers.

Just what does “equal pay” mean?  One figure bandied about is that women earn 77 percent of what men do.  But this is the aggregate pay of all women is 77 percent of the aggregate pay of all men.  But this is reflection more about the jobs and hours worked by men and women.  No law is going to change this.

On the other hand, there have been many cases of women starting the same job as men with the same relevant skills but getting less pay, just because they were women.

Equal pay for equal work is a great idea if all other things are equal.  If all other things were equal, we would be robots or bees in a hive.  "Brave New World" anyone?

First what is equal work?

Suppose John and Mary start on the same day with the same pay at a fast-food restaurant.  John is somber, takes orders and money with a minimum number of words, and never smiles.  Mary is outgoing, shows a bit of interest in every customer, and always has a smile.  John takes more orders per day than Mary.  Mary on the other hand takes bigger orders and gets people to come back often.  Should they get the same raise whenever that may happen?

If Dale and Marty graduate from the same school taking the same courses and getting the same grades, then they probably should be offered the same starting salary for doing the same thing.

After a year the company hires Lee and Jan from the same school.  They took the same courses and got the same grades as Dale and Marty did.  They are placed in jobs doing the same thing as Dale and Marty.

After a year on the job, Dale and Marty expect an annual raise because of their increased experience.  Should Lee and Jan get the same pay as Dale and Marty?  If the pay of all four were equal, the first two might consider going to another company where they will get more pay.

Now suppose after five years Dale takes a year off to have a baby.  When she returns should she get the same pay as Marty or the same pay as Lee and Jan?

Suppose after another couple of years Jan takes a year off to go skiing all over the world.  When he returns should he get the same pay as Dale and Lee?

Suppose after a few more years Dale has a very good year.  She solves some really tough problems and implements some great innovations.  She gets a raise that gives her a higher salary than Marty.  The next year she performs about the same as Marty.  When annual raises are given, should she get none thus once again getting the same pay as Marty?  Oops!  There goes another employee to the competition.

After a couple of more years Lee takes some leadership on a project.  As a reward management gives her a supervisory position which raises her pay to greater than that of Dale.  But she spends only half of her time on supervisory tasks.  The rest of the time she is doing exactly the same work as the other three.  Should her pay go up and down with what she is doing?

When I worked some late hours at Univac, we defined a good manager as the person who operates the copier when things get busy late at night.  That is, the manager is not just reading a summary of the work the next morning, but providing moral support with presence.  Should the manager get less pay for the time spent observing and doing menial tasks?

Consider the varied tasks of a grocery store manager.  The manager obviously hires new people, sees that they are properly trained, and evaluates their performance.  The manager has to oversee the accounting of receipts and bills, ordering of groceries, and the stocking of shelves.  The manager might also bag groceries, check out customers, stock some shelves, and even sweep the floor when everybody else is busy with customers.  Should the manager track his or her time so that he or she gets equal pay for equal work?

Fair pay takes more thought than a simple slogan.  To achieve fairer pay for more people, you have to do two things.

Join a union.  Unions have a long history starting with the American Revolution.  Remember “United we stand, divided we fall.”  “We, the people,… to form a more perfect union…”

Always vote.  Don’t be a stay-at-home who lets the “wrong” side win.  Remember “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”