Victoria Library Lockout & the Lazy Doctor’s approach to Pay Equity

Last week’s Victoria Times Colonist featured an update on the library lockout, “As library lockout drags on, employer’s side says it will examine wages paid elsewhere.

The management says they’re going to take a few weeks to gather data on payscales for similar jobs in other library systems around the province, such as Vancouver, Richmond, and Burnaby, in order to determine whether what they are offering CUPE 410 members is reasonable. (Not sure why they’re not just asking CUPE for the data, since it appears the union collected it all last summer anyway for this report…but a number of contracts *have* been renegotiated since July, so I’ll give them that.)

Sounds fair, right?

Um…no.

Comparing wages in one municipality riddled with labour disputes, situated within one of the minority provinces with no pay equity legislation, to another municipality in the same boat will only serve to maintain the status quo. Matching undervalued jobs in City A with the same undervalued jobs in City B will not achieve pay equity. To say it will is, frankly, a ridiculous proposition!

The Lazy Doctor: Defining down the standard

I asked one of my best friends,who also happens to be someone with experience with labour unions and gender equity stuff, what he thought of the situation, and he likened it to a lazy doctor. As in, you go to the doctor because you have some problem — say you’ve had a migraine for a month now and it’s really affecting your life. And rather than examining you, ordering diagnostic tests, and trying to treat your ailment, the doctor says,

“Well, listen guy, you think you’re the only one? This headache you have, it’s not a problem. You only think it’s a problem. There are lots of other people out there with headaches, and they’re mostly still alive. You think you have it bad? I see patients nearly every day who are practically bleeding to death on my floor! What you have is not a problem; it’s pretty normal. Just ignore it and you’ll (probably) be fine.”

Said friend called this “actively defining down that standard,” and when I went “?!?!?” in response he explained that, basically, instead of acknowledging that you have a problem and helping you get better, the doctor is redefining your problem as a perfectly acceptable norm.

Sounds like a pretty reasonable description of what’s going on here in libraryland to me.

Why isn’t the Victoria Public Library board comparing their staff wages with those in a region with actual pay equity?

For that matter, why have they apparently given up on their within-municipality equity comparison?

Oh, right… those type of comparisons would probably necessitate actual change. Such as meeting over the bargaining table, an activity I am given to understand hasn’t happened in a while.

From the numbers readily available, the pay for, say, an “L1” type position (entry level professional Librarian: far from the bottom of the payscale, but not exactly the top either) in Victoria doesn’t look worse than Vancouver, and looks perhaps a bit nicer than some smaller, suburban library systems in the region. Does this mean that Victoria is doing a good job, if they pay as well as Vancouver?

Hardly!

Vancouver, quite possibly the highest-paying of the listed comparator systems, is still recovering from a several-month strike in which the main issue was pay equity.

The Difference Legislation Appears to Make

And oh, those greedy Vancouver librarians! If they indeed *are* the most highly paid in this comparison (which I really can’t say – I only took a quick peek at recent job postings I could find, which in no way resembles a thorough or comprehensive comparison), are they just terribly greedy to have the gall have been on strike for more? Should they have stopped their snivelling and just put up with making >$7 an hour less than librarians at the Toronto Public Library (According to CUPE 391)?

Wait, why do those Toronto librarians make such a darned decent-seeming wage? Oh, riiight. Ontario has pay equity legislation….

As the Ontario Pay Equity Commission clearly states in their “Overview of the Pay Equity Act,”

Pay Equity is “equal pay for work of equal value”. The Pay Equity Act requires that jobs be evaluated and work mostly or traditionally done by women be compared to work mostly or traditionally done by men….
If jobs are of comparable value, then female jobs must be paid at least the same as male jobs. Female jobs are mostly or traditionally done by women such as librarian, childcare worker or secretary. Male jobs are mostly or traditionally done by men such as truck driver, firefighter or shipper.

The same overview states that two of the general principles on which the Pay Equity Act is based are:

“Female job classes”, or jobs performed mainly by women, are compared to “male job classes”, or jobs performed mainly by men. These jobs may be quite different.

and

Where a female job class is found to be of equal or comparable value to a male job class, the female job class must be provided with at least the same compensation as the male job class.

“Female job classes” are to be compared to “male job classes”…hmm…do you think it could be stated more clearly? Comparing undervalued feminized jobs with undervalued feminized jobs is an exercise in maintaining the status quo, not a move of any sort toward pay equity!

BC Library folk, maybe it’s time to really think about joining forces with some other groups for a new push for pay equity legislation similar to that in other provinces. Because if the past year is any indication, library staff are going to keep getting brushed off, ignored and underpaid until the province has something along the lines of what others do: pay equity legislation. (I’m sure there’s some BC labour history here of which I as a relatively recent immigrant am woefully ignorant, so feel free to comment and fill me in…)

-Greyson

Previous post on the lockout can be found here.

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Filed under gender, labour issues, The Profession

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