Implementing Comparable Worth/pay Equity: Experiences of Cutting-Edge States

By Gardner, Susan E.; Daniel, Christopher | Public Personnel Management, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview
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Implementing Comparable Worth/pay Equity: Experiences of Cutting-Edge States


Gardner, Susan E., Daniel, Christopher, Public Personnel Management


This article focuses on the experiences of eight states that have implemented comparable worth statutes: Connecticut, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, New York, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin. Montana did not find any gender-related disparities between its job classes, but each of the other seven states uncovered disparities and remedied them by expending amounts ranging from 1% to 4% of total payroll. Public employee unions are comparable worth/pay equity's most influential political supporters, but union support usually diminishes in the wake of pay equity adjustments. Implementation has produced unanticipated consequences: in Iowa, for example, pay adjustments generally did not benefit more senior employees but rather, in many cases, raised individual employees' salaries above those of their supervisors. Each state analyzed job classes systematically, but several states modified the consultant-provided systems due to a belief that widely-used methods undervalued female predominant job classes. As comparable worth/pay equity implementation has both technical and political dimensions, important value choices must be made throughout the process.

During the early 1980s national comparable worth legislation was proposed while litigation was simultaneously pursued in federal court. Congress, however, did not embrace the concept and most courts declined to mandate it, as exemplified by the Ninth Circuit's reversal of a district court's pro-comparable worth ruling.(1) Despite these setbacks, comparable worth/pay equity has made progress within particular state and local jurisdictions across the country. Much has been accomplished through collective bargaining and, in some state governments, through enactment of comparable worth laws. To be implemented successfully comparable worth/pay equity initiatives must address technical issues while simultaneously maintaining political support. This article examines political, technical, and financial issues facing comparable worth/pay equity by focusing on the experiences of eight states that have implemented relevant statutes.

Several overlapping definitions of comparable worth exist. Moore and Abraham(2) clarify matters by distinguishing comparable worth from several related concepts. Acknowledging that the terms "comparable worth" and "pay equity" have often been used interchangeably, they propose four categories under which claims of compensation inequality can fall. The first two categories, "equal pay for equal work" and "equal pay for similar work," are the least debated because court interpretations of the Pay Equity Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 have established parameters within which such claims can be adjudicated. Moore and Abraham view the third category, "pay parity," as extremely controversial because it calls for the average earnings for women to be aggregated on a national basis and made equal to the average earnings for men. Moore and Abraham describe the fourth category as "equal pay for equal worth," or "comparable worth." Hotly debated, "comparable worth" means that dissimilar jobs that are equal in terms of value or worth to the employer should be paid the same.(3) Similarly, Gray and Brown(4) define comparable worth as "the process of comparing dissimilar jobs to determine their relative values to the employer and then basing job pay on that derived value." Parallel definitions have been proposed by Remick,(5) Weiler,(6) and Rothchild and Watkins.(7)

This study presumes comparable worth to consist of two related ideas: (1) jobs, although dissimilar in content, may be similar in their value to the employer; (2) when jobs are similar in value they should be paid the same. Although comparable worth began as a remedy for sex discrimination in pay practices against women, members of both sexes employed in traditionally female-dominated jobs can benefit. Pay equity is often said to mean "comparable worth," but the former term has also been used to designate all efforts "used to ensure that wages are set objectively and equitably.

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