Wage War

Isn't It Time Women Earned As Much As Men?
By Jeff Smith

I'VE GOT THIS friend--how many times have you heard that old wheeze used to cover up a confessional?--but really, this friend of mine is working in the agricultural field, and is taking a real ass-kicking in the economic- and social-justice department.

What sort of ass-kicking?

Smith Well, how does five bucks an hour sound? Doesn't sound like much. No more resonance than a quarter hitting the bottom of a Salvation Army Christmas kettle. Plunk. How about five bucks an hour after five years on the job? A job, by the by, that involves dealing with the public, running the computer, running the cash register, knowing what to suggest by way of over-the-counter veterinarian supplies, how to worm your horse, stuff like that--and bucking hundred-pound bales of hay and sacks of feed into the beds of pickup trucks. You get the best of both worlds in a job like this: use your strong back and your agile mind.

Sounds like the Aristotelian ideal...except for the $5-an-hour part. Plus you get to live in a rustic setting amid amber waves of stuff that looks like amber waves of grain if you scrunch your eyes just so. Out where the gasoline prices and incidental whatnots at the corner store cost more than they do in town, because everything has to be trucked out here.

Of course my friend's employer can rationalize the slave wages, since my friend only works part-time. The rest of the work week is spent hustling whatever other odd jobs are available. All to try to add up to enough to keep gas in the truck--to be able to get to work--and groceries in the belly. To stay alive. We pretty much accept without protest the idea that part-time workers will get paid less. This offsets the lack of fringe benefits--insurance, sick-pay, vacation, unemployment compensation, retirement--that also form part of the part-timer's package. Hell of a deal: lose, lose, where the worker in concerned.

But the real reason my friend has spent five years at five bucks is that my friend is a woman. Employers aren't supposed to pay female employees less than the boys, for the same work, but they do. They do it all the time.

If they're operating in interstate commerce, there are federal laws against it, but there are countless ways to get around the letter of the law. All it generally takes is a quick and sleazy rationale about how the men working under the same job title occasionally have to lift something heavy. Never mind whether women could lift that something, too; the gentlemen are too polite to ask a lady to do anything so menial, so the boys do it and get bigger paychecks. That's using sexism to justify sexism. Double whammy.

This was brought to my attention just this morning (as I pound these thoughts into my computer) and at first I sort of nodded and muttered something vaguely sympathetic. Because the catalyst that brought the situation to focus was the hiring of another female employee, a rookie, at a wage higher than that of my friend, and of a couple of other male employees. Who immediately became so righteously pissed that one of them quit and the other demanded a raise.

As did my friend.

Guess who got his raise first.

Guess whose raise was bigger.

You're right on both counts. Which is further evidence of the systemic injustice I'm hammering on here. We all know women in similar work situations get the brown end of the stick. We know it because it's pervasive, and thus, to some degree, we accept it. Guaranteeing its perpetuation.

And you know what? Any idiot, if that idiot has a lick of common sense and a shred of common decency, knows this is dead wrong. Nothing complicated about it, no need to form a committee to study in depth the minute differences in tasks and responsibilities and expectations between women and men in essentially the same jobs: It's just plain wrong to pay any two people differing wages for the same work, based on gender.

Or, for that matter, skin color, nationality, age, whatever.

So cut that shit out. Now. Or we'll suspend your business license until you do. And keep every penny your business earns until you do the right thing. Period. TW

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