Commentary: Campaigns Confuse Equal Pay and Comparative Worth

Pokalsky
Ken Pokalsky is vice president of government affairs for The Business Council of New York state, Inc.

The issue of “equal pay” keeps coming up in congressional and state legislative races. Recently “Vote Cope,” the political arm of New York State United Teachers, began running ads saying George Amedore voted against “equal pay” during his two Assembly terms. But “equal pay” has been a matter of federal and New York State law for fifty years.

So what gives? What some candidates and advocates are really talking about is “comparative worth,” not pay equity. There is a big difference. This is not equal pay for the same job, but equal pay for jobs determined to be of comparable skill or value. Determined by who? Not the employer, or labor markets.

Under legislation currently before the New York State legislature (S.1491/A.5958), wages would be set based on criteria and methodologies adopted and imposed by the state Department of Labor.

Here’s an example. Based on state labor data, an experienced truck driver (an occupation that is more than 90 percent male) is paid on average $2,500 per year more than an experienced licensed practical nurses (an occupation that is more than 90 percent female.) But both jobs are classified as requiring the same level of training (i.e., a “post-secondary, non-degree award.”)

Comparable worth” legislation would demand these jobs to receive the same pay, regardless of real world factors such as labor markets and the availability and demand for specific skills. According to national surveys, truck driver jobs are consistently one of the hardest five jobs to fill in the U.S. But under “comparable worth” legislation, labor market factors wouldn’t matter. Moreover, under this bill, pay levels can only be increased to address any calculated “inequities.” Under a “comparative worth” standard, employers would be subject to constant litigation, challenging whether they applied the correct “worth” calculation to disparate positions.

Importantly, even though comparative worth bills have been around for decades, no state in the U.S. has yet adopted a comparable worth standard for the private sector workforce. In New York, the Assembly passed at least one version of comparative worth legislation each year from 2007 through 2013 (but not in 2014), but it has never come up for a floor vote in the Senate – not even in 2009 and 2010 with a democrat Senate majority.

The Business Council has strongly opposed these bills as unnecessary and unworkable, and we agree with legislators who have voted no.

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