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Coalition Assails U.S. Stance Against Pay Equity

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Washington--The chairman of the National Committee on Pay Equity, a coalition of 250 education, women's, labor, and civil-rights groups, last week assailed the Reagan Administration's opposition to comparable worth--the notion that men and women holding similar jobs should be paid comparable wages.

Recent comments by William Niskanen, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, Larry Speakes, the President's press secretary, and Clarence M. Pendleton Jr., the chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, "fly directly in the face of the law," said Nancy D. Reder, chairman of the coalition.

"We find these comments of Administration spokespersons disappointing and inflammatory," Ms. Reder said.

"They suggest a complete disregard on the part of this Administration for the civil-rights laws in this country that prohibit employment discrimination, including sex- or race-based bias," she said, referring to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

'Nebulous at Best'

Last month, Mr. Niskanen called the controversial issue of pay equity a "truly crazy idea" and Mr. Speakes said President Reagan believed the concept to be "nebulous at best," Ms. Reder said.

And at a Nov. 16 press conference called to release a collection of studies sponsored by the Civil Rights Commission--Comparable Worth: Issue for the 80's--Mr. Pendleton said comparable worth is "becoming the focus of civil rights in the 80's" and called it "the looniest idea since Looney Tunes."

Linda Chavez, staff director of the commission, also criticized the concept. Expressing "misgivings about a proposal that would so radically alter our existing marketplace economy," she said she thought that the comparable worth concept "would replace the marketplace as the determinant of wages with an administered wage system."

Washington State

Advocates of comparable worth claim that it would remedy past inequities resulting from sex discrimination. A major comparable-worth case in Washington State in which a federal district judge awarded millions of dollars in back pay to more than 14,000 state employees--most of them women--is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The Administration's post-election opposition to comparable worth suggests that it will change its pre-election decision not to become involved in the appeal of the Washington State case, Ms. Reder said. The Justice Department decided in September not to file an amicus6brief in the case, but officials said that action did not preclude a decision to intervene at a later date. (See Education Week, Sept. 26, 1984.)

California Suit

In related action, the California State Employees Association, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, has filed suit in federal district court in San Francisco, charging that California and Gov. George Deukmejian have discriminated against 37,000 female state employees by paying them less than men are paid for work of comparable value.

The suit seeks two and a half years of retroactive pay for the employees, who occupy some 400 job classifications that are predominantly female, according to Jeff Schrader, special assistant on issues for the union.

The union, which represents 120,000 workers, has the largest state-employee membership of any union in California. Among its members are 12,000 nonteaching employees of the California state university system, Mr. Schrader said.

A 1982 study conducted by the California Department of Personnel Administration found that the average salary of female state employees would have to be increased by 41.2 percent to reach the average pay of male state employees, according to Mr. Schrader.--ab & jh

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