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Women Charge Pa. District Pays Men More for Similar Jobs

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Some 60 women who are employees of the Reading (Pa.) School District have joined the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (afscme) in accusing the district of job bias on the grounds that it pays women employees less than it pays men in similar jobs.

On Aug. 24, the women, all of whom work in nonacademic positions, filed individual charges with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission; the same charges were also filed by the union with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars job discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or national origin.

Martha Buck, a labor economist with afscme, says she thinks the charge is the first of many that will be leveled against districts across the country. "I think every school district in the country has the same configuration in their nonacademic work force," she said. "I think [school districts] are particularly vulnerable to this kind of [charge]."

"The way salaries are set for jobs in this country is that there is a decision made for the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to do the job," Ms. Buck said. "The exception to this rule has always been jobs predominantly held by women. They have been paid at a rate as low as you can get."

afscme, which represents 1 million state, county, and local public employees--400,000 of them women--represents the clerical workers of the Reading school district, according to Ms. Buck. Their investigation into pay equity started when they were unsuccessful in getting the district to address the differences in the salaries of men and women in similar nonacademic positions.

According to Ms. Buck, afscme conducted an independent study and found that the district's nonacademic jobs are almost entirely sex-segregated, with women receiving considerably less money than men for jobs that require similar levels of skill, effort, and responsibility.

In the Reading cafeteria, according to Ms. Buck, the job of head cook, filled solely by women, pays $7,894 per year. The job of "food-gang worker," a physical-labor job filled solely by men, pays $16,432 a year.

Reading school district officials were unavailable for comment.

In related developments:

Former Gov. Dan Evans of Washington testified last week in federal district court that some of the 14,000 women working for the state were the victims of a sexist salary system.

Speaking on the first day of a trial in a suit against the state by the Washington Federation of State Employees, afl-cio over what the union charges are discriminatory practices in wage scales, the Governor said the situation must be remedied.

Union officials maintain the state is violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Washington civil-service law, and the state's equal-rights amendment.

Salary-Equity Study

The Los Angeles Unified School District--which, like many districts in the U.S., employs more women than men--decided last month to allocate $30,000 to look at various proposals for conducting a study of the equity of salaries among the district's approximately 70,000 full- and part-time employees, 70 percent of whom are women.

The school board plans to review the options presented, including the cost of conducting the equity study, and will decide by early March 1984 how to proceed with the findings.

Because the study, if it is carried out, will take a significant amount of time to complete, board members also directed contract negotiators to begin immediately to identi-fy and upgrade the salaries of employees in underpaid, female-dominated jobs.

"There seemed to be some general acknowledgement that there are some underpaid jobs in the district," said Sheldon E. Erlich, district public-information officer, "and since 70 percent of the jobs are held by females, [the board decided that] they may as well start now" to determine what positions are being underpaid. Seventy-one percent of the district's teachers, 90 percent of its instructional aides, 93 percent of its office and technical workers, and 55 percent of its cafeteria workers, custodians, and bus drivers are women, Mr. Erlich said.

Abby J. Leibman, acting director of the district's Commission for Sex Equity, called the board's action a positive step and said it represents "a good-faith effort on their part to move ahead on this issue."

Ms. Leibman cited 1981 figures compiled by the commission showing that jobs in the district that required little education and training and that were traditionally held by men had higher pay levels than jobs that required more educational or work experience and were traditionally held by women.

According to the 1981 report, those who held the position of painter--90 to 100 percent of whom were male--were required to complete an apprenticeship and have one year of experience as a journeyman. Painters earned approximately $22,000 each year.

In contrast, secretaries--90 to 100 percent of whom were women--needed two years of clerical experience. They were paid approximately $12,500.

And for teaching positions, 70 percent of which were filled by women, the requirements included a bachelor's degree, a teaching certificate, and two semesters of state-required student-teaching experience; average starting salaries in 1981 were approximately $12,550 for 10 months.

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