Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Article about equal pay rally cites two examples...of women who were paid equally!

Yesterday's Houston Chronicle included an article about women who were protesting for "National Equal Pay Day" and urging Texas lawmakers to pass equal pay legislation, an issue that seems to be the new favorite for Texas Democrats this election year:

The fact that the 77 cent figure is complete nonsense is well-documented (if you made it here to my little corner of the internet, I assume you know how to Google. If not, check out herehere, here, here, and here, for starters.) but what I found hysterical about this article is the reporter was covering a group of people who traveled to Houston to protest for equal pay legislation, but couldn't find a single woman who really needed the protection of a new law.

Here's the first example cited:
As a single mom, Pat Burnham worked many jobs - legal secretary, bartender, cocktail waitress - trying to support her 3- and 5-year-old boys 40 years ago.
"I couldn't make ends meet," said Burnham.
So she became an electrician, enduring harassment and bullying - but earning the same amount as her co-workers. Now, at 63, she's an electrician at San Jacinto College.
So, Ms. Burnham worked several entry-level administrative and service jobs, wasn't satisfied with her earnings, pursued a career that required specific skilled training, and succeeded? And she was "earning the same amount as her co-workers." Awesome. 

So, where exactly was the discrimination? If she was getting the same as her electrician co-workers, then she wasn't discriminated against. Is she complaining that waitressing pays less than being an electrician, a job that requires training and is subject to complicated safety regulations? That seems silly.

Here's the second example in the article:
Laurie Robinson said that during a performance review for her job at an auditing consulting firm, she learned she was earning 25 percent less than her male co-workers, even though she was one of her company's top performers nationwide.
"I was really shocked," she said.
She didn't sue the company, she said, because she was told bringing a suit would cost more than $100,000, damage her reputation in her field, and there was no guarantee she would win.
Instead, she took a job at a rival firm, recruiting four of her female co-workers with her, she said.

OK, let's take Ms. Robinson at her word that she was earning 25% less than male co-workers, even though she was a "top performer," and assume all other factors are equal. She had the right under federal laws to file a lawsuit and could have even gotten assistance from the Texas Workforce Commission. That's all under existing laws. 

However, note how she solved her pay gap: she left the company that was apparently discriminating against her, got a job that paid her what she was worth, and took four female co-workers with her. The sexist employer lost five experience employees and the whole process was much quicker, simpler, cheaper, and discreet than filing a lawsuit.

None of the laws proposed in Texas to address this trumped-up equal pay problem create a procedure or structure much different than what already exists. Women alleging discrimination would have a government agency to direct complaints and courts in which to file lawsuits. 

The problem, as illustrated by Ms. Robinson's example, is that no lawsuit or government complaint is a guaranteed victory, and the process is long and expensive. Even a complaint with merit and evidence may fail, or, what is more likely, might succeed but the ultimate judgment would be far less than if the woman had just pursued a new job.

(Side note: surely the equal pay law proponents are not arguing that the law should just automatically give the benefit of the doubt to anyone who files a gender wage discrimination claim? That would invite untold levels of fraud and abuse, not to mention backlogging the system so as to make it even harder for women with legitimate claims to pursue them.)

A new Texas law that perfectly mirrored the existing laws would be uselessly redundant. A state law that was stricter or had different standards or procedures than the current system would significantly increase the regulatory burden on businesses, restricting job opportunities for the very people an equal pay law is attempting to help. 

Every law our legislature passes is one that a business has to figure out how they are going to follow (or more likely, hire an attorney to tell them how to follow it). This is not free. Compliance costs money, time, and attention - all precious resources for business owners.

Remember: lawsuits are expensive, complicated, and not guaranteed. The best remedy against a sexist employer is a marketplace with lots of job opportunities so women have many available options to work for bosses who aren't Neanderthals. 

The powerful Texas economic engine continues to lead the nation in job creation at every skill level and in many different sectors. Employers who try to discriminate here - for any reason, whether it's gender, race, religion - will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage, as employees reject them for employers who pay better. No lawsuit can create a remedy for wage discrimination as financially lucrative as many other immediately-available, better-paying jobs.

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