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What are Common Arguments Against Pay Equity and How Can the Union Respond?

The market is supposed to set wages. If pay is too low, employers won’t be able to hire anyone, and wages will naturally rise.

Pay equity does not interfere with the market. To the contrary, AFSCME has found that in some cases, such as the state of Washington, the state is the largest employer, and therefore it sets the market. The issue of pay equity is one of internal equity, not one of wage control. Just as equal pay for equal work means that women and men holding the same job in the same organization must be paid the same, pay equity means that similar jobs held by men and women in the same organization should be paid the same. After implementing pay equity, most employers continue to survey the market. This is appropriate for jobs held by men since the market does not discriminate against these jobs. Pay for female-dominated jobs can then be determined based on internal equity.

If women want to earn more, they should choose other jobs — jobs that pay more.

More women are choosing occupations held predominantly by men, and we must continue to make these jobs more accessible to women. But society still needs secretaries, nurses, librarians and the many other occupations predominantly filled by women. Women (and men) should have the right to choose any occupation and know that they will be paid fairly for the work they do. In order to entirely eliminate segregation across occupations, one study estimated that 60 percent of all women and men would have to move to occupations dominated by the opposite sex. Such a change would obviously be very disruptive to the economy.

I don’t know how you determine which jobs are similar. That’s like comparing apples and oranges.

In fact, apples and oranges can be compared quite easily. For instance, we can look at nutritional content, calories and vitamins. Likewise, jobs can be compared using a job evaluation system that measures the skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions required for each job.

Women take time off from work to have children and aren’t as committed to their jobs as men so men should be paid more.

There are two things wrong with this argument. First, the vast majority of women with young children are employed. In 1996, 60 percent of women with children under the age of 5 were employed. And the average work life of women today is 30 years.

Second, even if women did take more time off, pay equity looks at pay for the job, not for individual workers. Pay equity studies are based on a standard pay level, such as minimum starting pay, so that how long someone has worked does not influence the results.

If public employees receive pay equity increases, my taxes will go up, and my employer isn’t giving me a pay equity raise.

Pay equity is usually implemented over a number of years, often two to four years, in order to lessen the financial impact on the employer. Most jurisdictions have had the same experience as the state of Minnesota, which implemented pay equity in a challenging fiscal environment and yet was able to do so without tax increases or layoffs. And not implementing pay equity also has a cost. Some AFSCME members work full-time and are still eligible for social services such as Food Stamps. After receiving pay equity adjustments, these workers are often able to be self-sufficient, and tax dollars are saved. Also, as more and more employers implement pay equity, it may motivate your employer to correct pay inequities too.

If my employer decides that women and people of color are underpaid, will my pay go down to even things out?

No. AFSCME’s position is that we will never accept lowering anyone’s pay to correct inequities. This position is supported by the federal Equal Pay Act that prohibits remedying pay problems by lowering the pay of higher paid workers.

Pay equity is unfair to men.

In today’s economy, most families have two wage earners, and if one of them is paid too little, the whole family suffers. Pay equity ensures that every worker in the family is earning what they should based on the requirements of their jobs. Also, men who work in jobs traditionally held by women will also receive pay equity adjustments.

I’ve heard that if my employer has to raise the pay for some jobs, then they will lay people off to pay for the raises.

Some people who are opposed to pay equity like to spread this rumor, but in all of the jurisdictions where AFSCME has won pay equity, no layoffs resulted from pay equity implementation. Opponents of the minimum wage and other laws that benefit working people also use this argument, but research shows no clear link between such laws and unemployment.

Some men get paid more because they have dangerous jobs or jobs which demand physical strength.

Working conditions and physical effort are two of the factors that are commonly looked at in a pay equity study. These factors are important and should be reflected in the pay for a job. But women also work in hazardous and physically demanding jobs such as nursing, that exposes workers to a variety of infectious diseases and requires lifting patients. All jobs, regardless of whether they are performed primarily by men or by women, should be paid based on the level of skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions required by the job.

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