November 3, 2014
Confusion over 'equal pay' clouding debate (Daily Gazette)
ALBANY, N.Y.—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 50 years.
What some candidates and advocates are really talking about is "comparative worth," not pay equity. This is not equal pay for the same job, but equal pay for jobs determined to be of comparable skill or value.
Under legislation currently before the New York State Legislature (S.1491/A.5958), wages would be set 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 nurse (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 receive the same pay, regardless of real-world factors such as labor markets and the availability and demand for specific skills. (National surveys show truck driver jobs as one of the hardest five jobs to fill in the United States.) But labor market factors wouldn't matter.
Under a "comparative worth" standard, employers would be subject to constant litigation, challenging whether they applied the correct "worth" calculation to disparate positions.
This is such a drastic departure from real "pay equity" standards that no state has adopted a comparable worth standard for the private-sector workforce, even though these proposals have been around for years. In New York, the Assembly passed at least one version of comparative worth legislation each year from 2007 through 2013, but it has never come up for a floor vote in the Senate -- not even in 2009 and 2010 with a Democratic Senate majority.
The Business Council has strongly opposed these bills as unnecessary and unworkable, and we agree with legislators who have voted no.