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A Boost for Women

About 3,900 women who work for the Los Angeles city government will receive pay raises soon in a landmark agreement that may be as important to the city as it is to the women. The settlement negotiated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is significant because it was negotiated, not handed down by a court, and because it places Los Angeles in the forefront of employers working to end wage discrimination.

The agreement came about because all sides faced the issues squarely rather than adopting defensive postures. The city’s chief administrative officer, Keith Comrie, and his staff found that women in some jobs were paid less than men in work that involved similar skills. The union was responsible in its negotiating demands, and elected officials were responsive.

As a result, the city will adjust the salaries of secretaries and clerks, at least 70% of whom are women, to levels near those of certain male dominated classifications like gardeners, garage attendants, drivers and maintenance personnel. Librarians’ pay will more closely match that of administrative assistants now. The raises can mean that some women will earn $250 more a month by 1987. The pact will cost the city $12 million; it might have cost far more had the women pressed their case in court and won.

American women have earned less than men almost from the day they first left home in any substantial numbers to work in New England textile mills. In recent years the fairness of lower pay has become hotly contended. Women argue that certain categories of jobs have been underpaid because they are dominated by women. A 1981 U.S. Supreme Court decision held that any wage differential that is the result of discrimination is against the law, so groups like the municipal employees’ union have been striving to ensure that the decision is applied in their negotiations and in other court cases.

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Lawsuits making the charge of sex-based discrimination are pending against both the state of California and Los Angeles County. The county may face a tougher problem than the city did because it has more job categories that are dominated by women, such as hospital workers and social workers.

Last year City Councilwoman Joy Picus, who was instrumental in this settlement, chaired a task force of the League of California Cities and the County Supervisors Assn. of California to try to chart a course for local governments that were going to have to deal with the issue. The task force concluded that the collective-bargaining process was the best way.

The process has worked in Los Angeles. The City Council should seal its approval by voting for the agreement today.


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