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Labor, Women Brand Council's Pay Equity Vote Meaningless

December 19, 1985|ERIC BAILEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — The City Council has adopted a policy that would provide women employees with wages comparable to those of men, but labor leaders and women's groups immediately criticized the action as "a whitewash" that does nothing concrete to improve pay for women.

Saying the city has already made "significant progress" in reducing the wage gap between men and women, the council voted 5 to 3 on Tuesday to adopt a pay equity policy.

Councilwoman Jan Hall, a chief proponent of the action, said it "put into words" an unwritten policy that city administrators had followed for several years. As part of its pay equity efforts, Long Beach has in the past four years budgeted more than $5 million additional for the salaries of employees in jobs dominated by women, city officials say.

But labor leaders and representatives of various women's groups said the council was sidestepping the matter.

"This policy is window dressing," said Walter Miller, general manager of the Long Beach City Employees Assn. "What the council did was dodge the issue while trying to get the political credit for being in support."

Charles Vestal, the association's president, said in an interview after the vote that he was disappointed the council had refused "to take a firm stand" and called the new pay equity policy "a whitewash."

Women Employees' Paychecks

"Although the city claims to be a leader on pay equity, we don't see it on the job," Vestal said, adding that much of the $5 million in pay equity adjustments has yet to appear on the paychecks of women employees.

Marie Garside, a representative of the National Organization for Women in Long Beach, agreed that the council did not go far enough, saying the policy "lacked teeth."

"It doesn't address the discrimination that they admitted to," Garside said. "They're not really doing anything about it."

Councilman Marc Wilder also panned the new policy. Wilder, who joined Councilmen Wallace Edgerton and Edd Tuttle in opposing the policy, called it "a facade" that did nothing to help the city's 1,059 women employees.

"All we're doing is using the words without getting to the substance," Wilder said.

Edgerton agreed. "This policy doesn't do anything," he said. "It doesn't change anything. It's just political sweet talk."

William Storey, city personnel director, maintained in a report to the council that "it is clear that Long Beach is one of the leaders in responsibly implementing pay equity."

According to Storey, women employees in Long Beach are paid about 72% of the median income of male employees in the city. About 26% of the city's employees are women.

While many male-dominated positions in the city's work force, such as electrician, carpenter and painter, are paid less than their counterparts in other cities, many of the female-dominated positions--librarian, secretary and clerk-typist--are paid more than they would be elsewhere, according to the report.

Vestal and others questioned many of the findings in the report and called on the council to approve an independent study by an outside consulting firm. Such a study, they said, could determine which job classifications did not have equitable wages.

Proponents of pay equity also asked that separate negotiations be held in order to divorce the issue from traditional contract talks. Because nearly three-fourths of the city's employees are men, women's issues such as pay equity often are shunted aside during negotiations, they said.

Independent Study Sought

After the council voted to approve the pay equity policy, Wilder called on his colleagues to adopt a measure authorizing the separate negotiations and an independent study of the wage situation for women city employees.

That motion, however, failed on a 5-to-3 vote, with Wilder, Tuttle and Edgerton again on the short end. Councilman James Wilson was absent.

The council then voted 5 to 3, with Wilder, Tuttle and Edgerton opposed, to instruct city administrators to incorporate the pay equity policy during contract negotiations with the city's employee association. Those talks begin again next year and a new contract should be hammered out by late June.

"The message this passes to city staff is clear," Mayor Ernie Kell said. "I'm sure city management will act accordingly."

Kell and other council members also indicated they were reluctant to authorize a study of women's wages because it might open the city to legal challenges.

Fear of Lawsuit

The state of Washington was sued recently by an employee group after state officials commissioned an independent study of pay equity but refused to enact the changes prescribed in the analysis. In September, the U. S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state was not required to compensate the employees because federal law does not obligate a governmental employer to eliminate an economic inequity it did not create.

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