Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Oppression Of Unequal Pay

We've all heard the claim that "the reason women don't earn as much as men is because they don't negotiate as well". Sometimes, that's true. When it comes to contract work, independent contracting, talent-oriented jobs, and many high-end positions, it definitely accounts for much of the income disparity between female workers and their male counterparts. However, I don't think most people realize just how blatantly women are getting discriminated against in hourly wage jobs, and it has nothing to do with negotiating skills at all, because frequently there IS no negotiating in these positions. To demonstrate this, I will share a personal story with you:

While I was on supervised release, I was not allowed to work in a position that required the use of a computer. (Apparently, the feds thought I was Kevin Mitnick.) As a result, there were very few jobs I could work in, given the fact that the economy made it difficult to find a job already, and felons have an even more difficult time finding jobs even in a good economy. In a bad economy, it's almost impossible, especially considering how almost every job requires the use of a computer.

One of the two jobs I had while on supervision was as a delivery driver for a pizza delivery company. These jobs are extremely dangerous (stories are plentiful about pizza delivery drivers being robbed, assaulted, and murdered) and they don't pay much. The company I worked for does not even pay minimum wage to its drivers, since it is considered a tipped position. Of course, sometimes there were no tips, especially with a tanking economy, and by the time you paid for your gas (not paid for by the company) and wear and tear on your vehicle, the $1 per delivery (1/2 of the delivery charge the customers pay) seemed like a joke. (The company justified keeping the other $1 to cover their insurance costs - the insurance covered them if a driver got into an accident, but it didn't cover the driver that worked for them - we had to pay for our own auto insurance and assume all liability ourselves, even while on the job.)

You were TOLD what you would be paid when you were hired, and it was clear that if you didn't like that, you could go look for a job elsewhere. There WAS no negotiating.

During my first week on the job, I was robbed at gunpoint on Valentine's Day night. It was a terrifying experience, but I handled it better than most probably would, and I went right back out and made more deliveries after I was finished with the police report, knowing that the sooner I got back on the horse, the more likely I would be able to overcome the fear of what had just happened.

Unfortunately, over the next few days I was dealing with some pretty bad post-traumatic stress issues. Getting robbed at gunpoint isn't something you take as lightly as I convinced myself I could the night that it happened, so I took a day off and then worked a couple of day shifts with the permission of the owners until I was ready to work at night again, when there are more deliveries and the tips are often a little better (and also when they actually needed me the most - you can't be choosy when you need a job).

Despite the fact that I still experienced severe anxiety many times when making deliveries (I still, even years later, have PTSD related to the robbery) I continued doing my job. When the cowardly male drivers, many of whom were over 6 feet tall, were too frightened to deliver to the projects, or sometimes just didn't think they would make a decent tip delivering there and wanted to hold out for a delivery in a better neighborhood, my 5 foot tall, female self would get in my minivan and drive the damn pizza to the projects, honey badger style, not giving a shit and knowing that if I just kept making deliveries it would eventually even out and I might have a decent chance of having some money left over after buying gas at the end of my shift.

Even my male supervisors at the pizza store commented on how brave I was... "Man, she's a 5 foot tall woman and she's not afraid to go out there, but you guys are whining about it? Man up, dude!"

My delivery times were often faster than anyone else's, male or female. I didn't stop at a convenience mart and chat while drinking coffee like some of the other drivers did, I didn't goof off. I delivered, I answered phones, I helped make pizzas (not part of my job), and prepared other drivers' orders for them when I wasn't up for a delivery.

Everyone seemed to acknowledge that I was one of the, if not THE, hardest worker there. I followed the rules, I minded my own business, I took up the slack for the kids smoking pot out back instead of doing their jobs, because I figured they'd have plenty of time to be serious and work their asses off later in life.

It was a lot of fun working there, but it wasn't always easy. Sexually inappropriate comments and behavior were rampant there, but I took it in stride, choosing to view it as a compliment that boys 20+ years younger than me were aggressively pursuing me, inappropriateness be damned.

Once, there was an incident where one of the twenty-somethings actually went overboard and did something that one might consider a sexual assault. One of the witnesses was incredulous that I wasn't more upset, and he thought I should report it to the owners, but I was just trying to get through my supervised release and didn't want to rock the boat. (You are very vulnerable to a lot of injustices when you are on supervised release, and many people know that and take advantage of the situation.)

Despite all of that, I continued working there even after I was released from supervision, mainly because it wasn't easy to find anything else. By that time, the economy had tanked so completely and college graduates weren't even able to get jobs delivering pizza, and I felt lucky to have a job at all.

Until one day, I made a disturbing discovery: We were talking about how wrong it was that we got only 1/2 of the delivery fee when gas was almost $3 a gallon, and a comment was made by a couple of guys that the $5.50 per hour they were making just wasn't enough to survive on when tips were so low and gas was so high.

WHAT?!? I was only making $4.50 an hour. How the hell were these guys making $5.50 an hour? They had worked there as much as a year LESS than me, were lazy and slacked on the job constantly, and a couple of them were some of the wusses who were too afraid to deliver to the projects, so they left me to take those deliveries for them. Later that afternoon, one of the guys who let it be known he was making $5.50 an hour (who probably didn't know I wasn't making that) started taking deliveries that weren't his to take, leaving me without any deliveries in a three-hour period. I. Was. Pissed.

Needless to say, that was when I decided it was time to take the plunge and try to find work as an independent contractor using my writing, programming, and web design skills. I told the general manager of the store I needed some time off, not wanting to start any drama, and I never went back to work there again.

I don't know for sure who made the chicken shit decision to pay the hardest working person at the joint a dollar less per hour than the males who didn't work nearly as hard and were too afraid to deliver to the projects, but l can tell you that, despite the fact that I had a lot of respect for the men who owned the stores where I worked, I found their attitude toward employees to be rather condescending.

Constantly, we were all told "You should just be grateful you have a job." (I was.) When we complained about gas prices, they promised to pay us the entire $2 delivery fee instead of only half of it when gas reached $3/gallon, but at that point it seemed the oil companies all conspired with them to stay right at $2.95/gallon. :-(

Incredibly, the owners constantly acted surprised that some of the employees were stealing from them... sometimes it was cash, sometimes it was food... stealing isn't ok, but when people are busting their asses and destroying their vehicles so they can earn less than minimum wage even WITH tips, and the attitude is that the paycheck they EARN is some kind of charity the owners are doling out to them, the understandable resentment on the part of employees gets expressed in ways that aren't very pretty.

Newsflash: Employees EARN their pay. They don't receive paychecks for staying at home or hanging out at the store. You are paying them whatever you are paying them to compensate them for their time away from their families, their effort to the point where every bone in their body aches at the end of the day, and for performing the jobs that keep your company running and (hopefully) profitable.

The attitude that many corporations and even small businesses have toward their employees is that the employees are some sort of welfare recipient, and there seems to be very little appreciation for the fact that these are the people that allow the business to function in the first place. Everyone is expendable, and nobody matters. And they wonder why their turnover rate is so high?

It's even worse when one segment of the population gets marginalized and paid even less in an already-low-paying position because she doesn't have a penis, despite the fact that she works just as hard or harder and has more experience.

The ONLY reason this continues in this day and age is because it is mostly secret. Employees are threatened with termination if they discuss their salaries with other employees, and it's legal to do that because most states keep employer-employee relationships at an "at-will" status, meaning you can be fired for any reason EXCEPT discrimination. Firing you for discussing your salary isn't discrimination, so they get away with that and nobody realizes just how rampant the problem is.

Why does it matter? Because that extra $40 a week, or $160 a month, would have made the difference between whether I had to choose between paying the power bill or foregoing a doctor visit and some medication to treat musculoskeletal issues. It would've made the difference in not having to choose between buying new work shoes when they developed holes in them and filling up my gas tank.

When you're making didley squat to begin with, every cent matters that much more, and the fact that I have a vagina didn't make me magically able to afford things better than a male, so why was I getting paid less?

And if you think I'm overstating the importance of all of this, remember that money is the vehicle that gives us the power to live the lives we choose. If some have less power to live the life they want to live than others who do the same job at the same company simply because of their genitalia, it's no different than taking away someone's right to be seen as equal at the voting polls or anywhere else.

If you wouldn't make excuses for not allowing women to vote, you shouldn't make excuses for us to not be getting equal pay for the SAME JOB AT THE SAME COMPANY as those who have penises. And if you WOULD be willing to make excuses for not allowing women to vote, well, I think you'd fit in much better in a barbaric, third-world country than in America.

I can't vote, but I can sure share information with people, and I've managed to open some eyes during this campaign which has resulted in some people I know changing their minds about who they are voting for in favor of a more reality-based candidate.

Romney and Ryan have voted AGAINST fair pay for women repeatedly. Any woman who is ok with that probably doesn't work for a living, and definitely doesn't know what it's like to struggle at the hands of a male-dominated work-force who conspire to take more for themselves at the expense of women who often work harder than they do.

I'm all for keeping the government out of our lives and businesses as much as possible, but when somebody is conspiring to keep me from finding out that I'm being paid less than my male counterparts, I call bullshit, and we do that by refusing to support candidates that refuse to support equality.

And, for all of you who are annoyed that so many people are on food stamps, you might want to consider that a large majority of people on food stamps HAVE JOBS, but they don't get paid a living wage. Women who aren't getting paid as much as men who do the same job at the same company are more likely to need food stamps to feed their kids (since so many deadbeat dads don't take care of their responsibilities). Next time you open up you mouth to whine about how many people are on food stamps, consider your part in it if you voted for a candidate who is against equal pay for women.

Got a calendar handy? It's 20-fucking-12, folks. Why are we still discriminating against women to begin with?

I'll tell you why. Because we have tolerated this bullshit for far too long. And, as one of my favorite quotes says: "You deserve what you tolerate."

It's time to stop tolerating it.


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