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Pay equity - A first step

February 25, 1997

West Virginia women who do the same jobs as men would have to be paid at the same rate, under bills introduced Tuesday in the both house of the state legislature. But getting more pay for working women will require more than legislation.

Why is that? Because while West Virginia has the worst pay gap in the nation - the state's women make only 58 cents for every dollar men earn - much of it is due to the fact that the state's higher-paying industries (mining, timber harvesting and construction) traditionally employ men.

Bridging that gap will be tougher than determining that a business is giving men who do clerical work fancy titles to justify paying them more than women get for the same tasks.

And so if there's going to be any hope of reaching the bill's objectives - reducing single mothers' dependence on public assistance and eliminating barriers to women's advancement in the work place - the sponsors need a two-pronged strategy.

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The first, which this legislation doesn't address, is to get women trained for higher-paying trade jobs and attract companies that will offer women a real chance to advance, as opposed to restricting them to being support staff for male executives. If lawmakers are serious about this, they're going to have to come up with an incentive package.

The second part of the strategy would create an Equal Pay Commission, which will presumably hold hearings before a scheduled 1998 report to the legislature. Depending on what sort of horror stories the commission does (or doesn't) hear, it should recommend rules for filing complaints and enforcement.

Certainly any company which pays women less for doing the same jobs as men should be ordered to get its corporate act together. We predict, however, that the commission will have to grapple with other more difficult questions, like whether a man running a floor buffer should be paid more than a woman stocking shelves in the same store, given that equal amounts of strength are required for each. This law will be a first step toward solving, as opposed to the complete solution, of the pay equity question.

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