For more in depth bargaining information check out CUPE’s Up with Women’s Wages! kit.
One way to increase women’s wages at the bargaining table is to do away with or shrink incremental wage systems. The incremental system provides salary increases based on how long you’ve stayed on the job. Lengthy increment systems are more common for female job classes, such as clerical jobs, and their effects are discriminatory.
This system forces artificially low wages by stretching the period employees have to work until they’re making the job’s full rate. In some cases, the foregone salary can amount to over $50,000 for each woman. That’s how much each woman loses under an 11-year increment system that only exists for the female job classes in one of our collective agreements.
Employers promote the idea that workers who remain loyal employees over the years are rewarded by higher rates. But increments are simply a way to withhold the proper rate for the job. The same employers who impose increments on clerical and office workers pay their manual workers the full rate from the first day of employment.
There are other more appropriate, ways to reward long service. You can negotiate a special annual payment that’s made for long service employees based on the number of years worked. Longer vacations based on the number of years worked are another of the many ways to reward long service.
Flat wage increases are key to reducing the wage gap between men and women. Since 1981, CUPE has pushed for across-the-board cents per hour (or dollar) wage increases, rather than percentage increases.
Percentage increases widen the wage gap because they give larger increases to those at the top wage scale. For example, a worker earning $40,000 a year who gets a
5% wage increase will get a pay hike of $2,000. But a worker earning $20,000 a year will only receive an increase of half that amount: $1,000, based on a 5% settlement. Over time, the difference in wages grows and the wage gap widens between the lowest and highest paid.
To close the gap, aim to negotiate wage increases which give each worker the same cents-per-hour wage increase — also known as a flat rate wage increase.
For instance if a worker making $40 an hour, and another making $20 an hour both get a $1 an hour wage increase, the lower paid worker will see a bigger percentage increase in income. Flat wage rate increases narrow the gap between the bottom and top of our wage scales by boosting the bottom rates more than the top rates.
Employers pay lower base rates for the jobs women do than for those that men do. The base rate is the wage for the lowest entry level job class. The base rate for clerical workers (Clerk I, for example) is often lower than for labourers.
Equalizing base rates means raising wages so that the base rate for women’s jobs is equal to the base rate for men’s jobs covered by the collective agreement.
Recently, a number of CUPE locals have had great success boosting women’s wages by negotiating parity with another group of workers. Negotiating parity means bringing women’s wages up to the higher rate of pay for a comparable group of workers.
Over the past decade, pay equity legislation has been the most common method for recognizing that different jobs held by women and men should be paid the same. Legislation often relies on demonstrating that different jobs are of equal value based on comparable skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions.
But where women workers are not covered by pay equity legislation, it is also possible to bargain increases based on making the same argument for parity. It goes like this:
Women should be paid the same as men in a dissimilar job, regardless of whether they work for the same employer. The argument is that women’s work is just as valuable, and in some cases more so, than men’s. For example, wages of child care workers are usually far below those paid to zookeepers. Yet a strong case can be made in bargaining that a worker providing early childhood care and education to children should make as much, or more, than someone caring for animals.
Because women bear children and often tend to be primarily responsible for their care, negotiating paid parental leave is important to ensure women don’t lose income when off work for family-related reasons. Forms of paid parental leave include:
• Paid maternity leave
• Paid adoption leave
• Paid extended parental leave
• Paid leave for family responsibilities
In some cases, it’s hard to make headway in raising low paid women’s wages at the bargaining table when a public sector employer can’t come up with the money. For example, many CUPE employers rely almost exclusively on funding from government. This is the case for many social services that depend on municipal and/or provincial funding.
In these cases, it’s important to develop an effective strategy to pressure government to come up with the cash. CUPE has had some success with this approach. One example is the Direct Operating Grant (D.O.G.). The Ontario government was pushed to provide more funding to public child care centres to subsidize the cost of raising child care worker wages out of the income basement. In this case, we learned the importance of folding a direct operating grant into the base wages to prevent the grant from being easily withdrawn. Child care workers in British Columbia, Quebec and most recently, Manitoba, have also benefited from direct grants provided by provincial ministries to boost wages.
Our struggles to stop privatization and contracting out of services are also important to prevent a decline in women’s wages. One of the main ways contractors make money when they take over services is to lower labour costs by cutting hours of work, increasing the proportion of part-time positions and/or by directly lowering the wage rate.
Stopping privatization is an important way to preserve higher wages for women workers. And if services do get contracted out, we need to make sure we organize those workers and negotiate to keep their wages at the same level they were before.