Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Women's Salaries Still Reflect the Gender Gap

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Women's Salaries Still Reflect the Gender Gap

Article excerpt

FOR years, school cafeteria workers in Everett, Mass., regarded themselves as "very quiet ladies" and "just ordinary people." Day after day they prepared lunches for several thousand students. They had excellent employment records. They liked the children. And they didn't mind the hard work, which included lifting heavy cases of food, standing over steam tables, and taking apart slicers and other large machinery to clean.

But week after week, they did mind the modest paychecks they took home - checks that were almost half the amount paid to the all-male custodial staff. They also minded what they perceived as a lack of respect from school officials.

And so in 1989, those "very quiet ladies," who thought they "didn't have any backbone," took a courageous step. Never mind that most were in their 50s and 60s, and that many were widows. They filed a class-action suit against the school system, charging pay inequity. In the first test of a state law mandating similar pay for comparable work, they sought the same pay as male custodians.

The city's attorney argued that the jobs weren't comparable because custodians work longer hours and need more strength. But in a precedent-setting decision this month, a superior court judge ruled that the women were entitled to the same wages as custodians, because they performed "substantially comparable" work. The ruling entitles them to back pay.

Pay equity has received little public attention in recent years as reproductive issues have eclipsed economic issues for women. But gender-based wage differences remain common. Some can never be resolved by the courts because they involve different businesses, as in the case of child-care workers who earn less than parking-lot attendants. But when employers do equalize pay for jobs requiring comparable skills and responsibilities, women's economic prospects improve.

Last spring, Virginia Commonwealth University increased the salaries of female professors to bring them in line with their male counterparts. The changes came after a survey showed that female professors at the school averaged almost $2,000 less than male professors during the 1990-91 school year. …

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