MPR’s Dan Olson interviews Bonnie Watkins, staff member of the Minnesota Council on the Economic Status of Women; and Carol Flynn, an organizer for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Watkins and Flynn discuss problems faced by office workers and efforts to organize the predominately female clerical workers. Topics include pay inequality, sexual discrimination, and vague job descriptions. Both also answer listener questions.
Read the Text Transcription of the Audio.
(00:00:01) Well, this is National secretaries week and some office workers. Most of them women are using the occasion to seek better pay and working conditions today on midday will hear from two women who have been office workers. Both of them are familiar with the work and pay of clerical employees. And one of them is actively involved in organizing office workers a bit later. Both of them will answer your questions on the subject of office workers joining unions, and now here's Danielson. Thank you, Bob. Good afternoon. Everyone National secretaries week has been observed now for about 10 years many employers use the occasion to recognize the work of their office workers. A floral business hasn't objected to the observance reminding employers of the week and suggesting flowers, of course, but some office workers most of them women agree with the sentiment of a group called working women in Cleveland, Ohio their suggestion to their bosses keep the roses and this year give us our rights. The request is based on the claim that women who work in offices and post office workers are women are paid less than 60% on the average of what a man earns bowing to the assertion. That numbers can be manipulated to fit the argument. We will explore in the next half hour or so some of the other concerns that office workers have an employer seeking guidance as to what office workers should be paid might consult a 1979 1980 edition of The Office salaries directory. That's a publication by the administrative management society and an employer. Our area would learn that his colleagues in the Twin Cities who responded to a survey or paying about twelve thousand six hundred dollars for an executive secretary a top paid job a typist clerk is earning just over $7,600. One of the lowest paid categories in between our account clerks stenographer to transcriber keypunch video display terminal operators and many others wage rates tend to be higher on the east and west coasts of the United States and lower in the South and Southwest for office workers based on the directory lists many women who work in offices say advancement to higher paying jobs is unlikely due to sex discrimination and they charge sexual harrasment is not uncommon from men who are bosses. Some office workers say that the definition of their work is vague, it can include making coffee or getting birthday gifts for the bosses children to briefing the employer on business matters. He is unfamiliar with two women who have been office workers have joined us in st. Paul since Carol Flynn joined the American Association American Federation of state county and Municipal Employees in 1979. She has been associate director of Local Number 6 in st. Paul of apps me the bargaining unit affiliated with the AFL-CIO before her ask me work Carol help Carol held various clerical and administrative jobs. Bonnie Watkins, who is also with us has been an office worker and she is now on the staff of the Council on the economic status of women, welcome to both of you and of course reminder that in a few minutes, we'll give out some phone numbers for those who want to call in questions to either Carol or Bonnie. First of all, I'd like to begin Carolyn Bonnie by asking why you think office workers earn the pay that they do traditionally fairly low pay (00:03:12) Carol. Well, I think it's a function of we're sort of the housekeeper's of the office and since we've come through a hole making career where you get paid nothing getting paid anything probably is acceptable or has been at least in passed to a number of us we Accepted less we've had perhaps a low opinion of ourselves in order to accommodate that we think that we're not going to be in this as a career. We're only going to work until we get married or it's a temporary pin money or till we buy the new whatever as a family and ten or fifteen years later. We find that we're still in that position. And and so that's changing the women's movement itself is encouraging women to look at their work as a career and more than just a stopgap kind of temporary position treating it as a career. We can no longer agree to having ourselves provide the cheap labor that an employer may be looking for. I think that's true. I think also that the kind of institutionalized sex discrimination that we see throughout the workforce comes to roost for clerical workers. I think that growing Nancy for clerical workers to organize or perception that clerical workers are beginning to organize is parallel to the things we've been hearing about nurses. For example throughout the labor market women's jobs pay less than men's in clerical work in many ways is second only to homemaking is a prototypical woman's job. (00:04:51) What is the percentage of men and women who hold office jobs? (00:04:56) Well, the latest National census data that I have is the clerical and Kindred workers class, which is very broad 80% of workers in that class are women. If you look at the more narrow categories within that General group 97% of typist for example are women, (00:05:17) what about the extent of organization or unionization among office workers? I'm led to believe that most office workers have not (00:05:25) organized it slow and we find that only about 1 in 10 women. I belong to unions so that maybe even less in the Clerical Service profession. (00:05:37) What about Carol? Some of the arguments that you mentioned you talked about some of the issues women and the women go to work in offices to earn pin money. It is temporary work. What evidence do you have to contradict that view that it is Transitional work for many women who simply aren't interested in making office work a career. (00:05:56) Well, the facts are that 42 percent of the workforce are women today. And so that hardly speaks to a temporary temporary situation. It's going to increase each year as we're observing now. The big balloon has occurred in just since 1970 where there's been a significant increase in women participating and they're not just Single women or older women or whose children are have grown today the women stay in the workforce for an average of 34 years. The average working woman is 38 and married and obviously a major force in the American economy. So we have a pretty typical woman that you would consider in the past as having been the Homemaker is now actually the person that's working outside of the home. It's right and I think that her contribution to her family's well-being is greater than ever before there's a figure that nearly two-thirds of all employed women were either single or widowed or divorced and therefore the only support for themselves and their children or have husbands who earn less than $10,000. So it's really not a case of pin money. It's absolutely crucial support for the family and an economic crunch time. (00:07:20) Alright again on the issue of wages to both of you. What about the argument that really most office jobs don't require very much training. They do not require a great deal of skill in any particular area as a result office workers. Simply aren't worth being paid as much as workers in other areas. (00:07:39) Well, in fact, it requires a great deal of training and education and minimum requirements are always at least a high school diploma where a lot of driver labor kinds of male stereotype jobs do not have those kinds of educational requirements the skill level of through experience. In other kinds of training are exceedingly valuable and highly rewarded if they happen to be held by men and those include things like ability to write and Speak & Spell and and do a variety of things of that sort it. In fact, I did a kind of take off for my own edification once if men were secretaries and found that a number of things would evolve from that if in fact it were a male career it would suddenly be valued something nearer that of Surgeons. I identify because of the high verbal. Girls that are required the administrative responsibilities and such they're involved in office work at it. That's right, the organizational skills and the ability to coordinate the movement of people working with all kinds of sophisticated Machinery that goes on is just incredible and it's amazing that it's so easy for people to not see what that job entails. There are a significant number I think of clerical workers who like myself are college graduates who don't find that work menial and boring or not rewarding in those ways, but in fact find it very challenging and interesting and valuable. (00:09:18) All right, I want to ask you both of you about that issue of automation new equipment in offices and how that's affecting workers in just a bit the time now is coming up on 12 15. We're talking with Carol Flynn and Bonnie Watkins Clara Carol Flynn works with local number six in st. Paul of the American Federation of state county and Municipal Employees Bonnie works with the On the economic status of women also in st. Paul will give out some telephone numbers now that you can call in case you have questions and about Potter will be handling the phone traffic for us and I'll remind Bob right now. I guess that the phone forwarding devices in our MP our studios here in st. Paul will have to be cleared. I understand that's taken care of. The number then that you can call is 221155022115502. Ask a question of either Bonnie or Carol and the telephone number for listeners. In other areas of Minnesota outside. The Twin Cities is to is area code 1 800 I should say that's a toll-free number 1-800-695-1418 six five two nine seven zero zero lines are open right now and we'll wait just a minute for callers who have questions. Carol reminds me she works with Council numbers. X of apps me in st. Paul and I want to ask both of you one other question on the issue of wages you've talked about the fact that you believe office workers need higher salaries, but as Carol pointed out there is apparently a large pool of women, especially women who are willing to work for lower salaries apparently so because they take the jobs and I'm wondering what the incentive for employers is to pay higher salaries to office workers. There is a large pool of easily trainable employees and what particular Advantage can unionization bring to the office (00:11:16) worker. Well right now women are earning about 59 cents to each dollar that a man earns and that Gap seems to be widening rather than diminishing cold fact is that unionized women earn significantly more money than non-unionized women 1977 data from the Department of Labor suggest that they earn as much as forty seven dollars a week more than on unionized people. Well that ought not to be the only reason for organizing in a union and one of the things that women also want as a reward and reinforcement for working is again the same as as men working you want bread and you want roses to and you want the Dignity of sitting down at the table and collectively bargaining for your terms and conditions of employment as well as your compensation and that is a function. Shouldn't of unionization and organizing and Union that you can accomplish as women. And as well as men the Brotherhood and Sisterhood that's a function of a union is also a very rewarding experience. That's right. I think the sense of having some control over the decisions that affect you in the workplace is absolutely fundamental, you know, being excluded from staff meetings or having your bathroom breaks timed and all those small humiliations really add up and our I'm sure every bit as important as wages for some women. (00:12:48) We have a questionnaire on the line and we'll get to that question in just a moment. Once again, the telephone numbers 22115502 ask a question of either Carol or Bonnie 1-800-662-2386 the toll-free number for those living outside the Twin Cities, but with in Minnesota will go ahead to the first question right now. Good afternoon. You're on the (00:13:11) air afternoon. I wanted to ask a question of the union rep. I was wondering if the union has any plans for dealing with worker disc displacement with the new group of word processing devices and small microcomputers. (00:13:30) All right, Carol. It's a question directed to you specifically about form of autumn leaf Automation in the office. (00:13:37) Yes, that is a function of the workers themselves a clerical Xin working at the bargaining table to protect themselves in whatever way they feel would be appropriate and whatever they can get the employer to agree to the there are people who find that working in word processing situations are indeed improvements over the dull repetitive kind of typing that that is the other kind of typing that goes on the word processing can in fact be more efficient and in certain offices can be an improvement one of the other areas that were not familiar enough with there hasn't been enough long-term experience to determine if there is a health hazard with the video displays that are a function of this word processing project process. That's another of those Things that the union appropriately would be involved in in OSHA coverage, you know watching to see what that health impact might be and again it collectively the workers can do something about (00:14:46) it. Yo, what about the concern of employers who feel that their hands will be tied when the union comes into the office and organizes. The workers their hands will be tied in terms of reducing. The number of employees due to increased automation as a result. Their productivity will will (00:15:01) slacken. Excuse me. Could I interrupt one second? I think at least for the state of Minnesota the new word processing Machinery has often been marketed at least partly with the assumption that people would not be laid off as a result that at least in theory some clerical workers would have time freed up to do more administrative kinds of work. I think very appropriately a lot of women get a little cynical and say how much more am I going to be paid for this more responsible work, but they don't Usually claim there are going to be a lot of layoffs and that's been our experience as well. If they're that automation has not resulted in a reduced number of secretaries. It could be however that when we're talking about data processing or those kinds of things that you can be losing. In fact file clerks people that are at the beginning levels of office work that maybe do use those kinds of occasions for training and experience. And in fact, we may be handicapping the least able to protect themselves people in this process not the secretary of the type of stool who is a quite a valuable person despite the fact that she's not being paid very much today. She still is recognizing the important part of the of the office the file clerk may be the one that's going to be hurt in this. Word processing data processing transition (00:16:29) we have other callers on the line and we'll get to the next question right now. Good afternoon. Bonnie and Carol are listening. (00:16:34) Yes. I work in an office in Minneapolis and I'm in the position where I'm considered a secretary. But all there is is to people in the office and when my boss is gone. I am in charge and I know everything he knows and I do everything he does but he gets paid like four times as much as I do. I've now decided there's nowhere to go secretaries don't get pensions. I may get a quarter my next phrase and it's not really, you know, I'm going to be working for 30 years more I figured because that's what I want to do. I want to work and I don't have children and like you said there are people that want careers and do think it's interesting and I work in a steel company, which is very interesting, but they just don't pay you can't you know, there's not going to be a raise. So now I've resorted to going through a program called leap. They said would promote women in electrician jobs. So I've signed up to be an electrician and apprentice and they will pay me Union wage. (00:18:00) That's right. The I'm a bit familiar with the LEAP program. And that's an excellent one. It will be very interesting to see as more women enter those kinds of non-traditional jobs. If the wages remain as high as they have been in the past when they've been almost exclusively male jobs. I would like you to know that your experience is if it's any comfort at all. Your experience is very typical. There are an awful lot of women in your position. (00:18:23) All right. What about that issue raised by the caller about a lack of a pension plan? For example, how you have? How unique is that? (00:18:33) Well, it's not it doesn't occur where your organizing, you know, you organized for compensation and that includes fringe benefits and that includes pension and retirement programs. That's been one of the strengths of Public Service, which I represent of course, but it's certainly true also in the private sector and one of the things that Bonnie and I need to talk about over the next few years is a fact that we need more women involved in those pension retirement concerns that we find even though women will live longer and probably need to live off of that pension lot longer and with less other resources available to them. It's almost exclusively man who are concerning themselves with those pension retirement bills that go through the legislature Social Security concerns, even at the national level are there's men around it not women and yet it's the women that have to live offer. Absolutely. And I think it is those kinds of things that don't show up in your paycheck that are becoming as important in the long term to women and to all employed people as you know, the the actual take-home pay it's those things that make all the difference between being able to buy the groceries and really feeling that you can plan for your old age without really being terrified of living in poverty. The numbers of old women in this country who live in poverty are a National (00:19:59) Disgrace. We have some other questioners waiting and I'd like them to get a chance to get their questions in so we'll go to the next one right now. Good afternoon. You're on the air. (00:20:08) I'm calling from Duluth. Just wanted to ask about how unions were effect. But let's say the boss. Is that want to give somebody a bonus. Let's say moving up to a slightly better job for doing a good job for rewarding them for work. Well done instead of going by seniority rules that most union seemed to have I myself am resigned to working for a company at Probably a lot lower wages than I could because I kind of like it here there there are benefits. I don't nothing monetarily, but it's a job that I enjoy and that's the way it is. I would love to make as much money as my wife does working downtown but Anyway, just wondered what they think about the problems with seniority and unions in moving somebody to a better position because quite often you seeking. (00:21:08) I think if the group wishes to work in some kind of pay for performance bonus, whatever as part of the collective bargaining process that's perfectly legitimate. And if the majority choose that it's appropriate that it should be part of the contract if they can get the employer to agree to it on the question of seniority that's quite different. And in fact is the basis for unions as well as individuals if you if you stop and think about it, there's nothing inherently discriminatory about seniority at all, and I'm always puzzled by those people who talk about that somehow I can work against women or minorities or something like that. I've worked for an awful lot of years and seniority has been a real bat value to me and within the union we found that in fact women and minorities have the only protection they've had for opportunities to move up have been a function of seniority in the contract that The reason we have some problems with the absence of women and minorities in higher positions because there were decisions made for all those years that stepped over won't women and minorities and seniority does not allow that to occur. That's right. I think that there has been a myth that women are much more likely to have a high job turnover rate than men and in the past, of course, there is some moving in and out of the labor force that's associated with having children that is clearly beginning to change having some parental leave kinds of Provisions pregnancy leaves are changing that a study by the state demographer in 1977 show that in fact women had a slightly lower turnover rate than did men. So I agree with Carol that seniority is not in and of itself a something that people should view as discriminatory in any way. There are an awful lot of women who have been stuck in very low status low paying positions for 20 years that if their sheer time, Contribution were recognized would be much better off today. (00:23:11) All right, the time is 28 minutes after 12 o'clock. We have a couple other questioners will be getting to in just a moment and we'll remind you that you're listening to Carol Flynn who is from Council six of the American Federation of state county and Municipal Employees in st. Paul and to Bonnie Watkins on the staff of the Council on the economic status women will go ahead to the next caller right now. Good afternoon. You're on the (00:23:32) air. Yes. I'm going from Coon Rapids. And I fairly agree with you that clerical workers are grossly underpaid. My hand say works as a clerk secretary's matter fact fix what I was in 76 an hour 76 cents an hour and this is the union position. Is that the higher wage you talking about? (00:23:56) That's actually fairly good pay for women. I think has been a rallying cry for a long time. There's been a perception that good pay for a woman is so different from good pay for man. 476 an hour is higher. I think than the median wage for women (00:24:11) Carol. What about that issue of unionization not bringing overnight changes (00:24:16) that's certainly true and it didn't occur for the men in the labor movement, either, you know, it will take time. It will involve women are going to be asked to make some additional sacrifices. Unfortunately. The Union in itself is not going to respond to the needs of women until women are willing and able to participate in greater numbers within that Union organization. My union nationally has almost half of its members are women and it's taken that fact to make the organization respond respond. Dramatically to the needs of women and to recognize that there was discrimination out there and to try to do something about it. Yeah. May I could I just add I think that the the power of numbers can't be overemphasized and that's particularly true for clerical workers who are often very isolated. They don't go to meetings and talk with other people who have similar jobs. They have a unique and sometimes much closer relationship with their employer than other kinds of workers and I think clerical workers even more than others can't bring about change as individuals and if they do it's not the kind of change that's going to last or that's going to make a lot of difference for a lot of people. Yes, I should mention that to pick up and that that clerical is have identified with management dress Behavior social attitudes, and that's that doesn't have to be evil, you know anything of the sort but we've also instilled in women and in clerical I think I kind of know Negative image of unions. It's thought of as blue collar or it's thought of as a bunch of goons or bunch of men with big cigars in around and you know, those men with basic cars can help us to they don't have to be the enemy just because they look different or whatever and of course the Union's themselves are hiring more women like myself, but also, I have a number of sisters within the organization or business reps have been there longer than I that have been working as Union thugs were long time. (00:26:25) All right, we have other callers on the line. We'll take the next question right now. Good afternoon. You're on the air. (00:26:29) Hi. I'm calling from the rural area in northeastern Minnesota, and I wanted to mention one of the other benefits of labor organization that probably applies to this sort of job and that's job definition. That when you have a union you've usually got a job description or something that says what you're supposed to be doing. So, you know, your responsibilities your steps to promotion tells you what's going to happen with career advancement and it also protects you from abuse in that you're protected by knowing what your job is from the extra non job-related errands that can be at the whim of an employer and that people in clerical and secretarial jobs often get dumped on them just because they're available and there's nothing that this will you can't stop me from having to do that and the other kind of abuse is sexual harrasment that Would reduce I think is the benefit of labor organization because you'd have some recourse to your union to deal with an employer or supervisor or another person on the job that Harris's you (00:27:43) sexually yes, you'll have a grievance procedure and you'll have a process for dealing with that and you'll if that problem persists and is identified throughout your organization. You'll have actual descriptions of what what's where's the line and what things are harassment which things are not and it's right. I think harassment is very hard to deal with because the more vicious forms of it aren't usually done in a situation where the woman is going to have witnesses. But I think being part of a powerful organization that the perception of being part of a powerful organization is as important as anything else that sexual harassment is not related to sex as much as it is to a power structure and that is something that I hope organizing will change. And we have we have some resources available as as an organization. As a union you we have legal counsel that we can call on to take care of those legal kinds of battles. We have the research kinds of people that can do the hard work of pulling the data out of a budget or or wherever it's needed or showing the numbers in the comparisons of salaries with other institutions. Whatever. (00:28:56) Alright we have time to take one more caller who's waiting on the line right now and we'll go to that question. Good afternoon. You're on the (00:29:01) air. Hi. I'm calling from Minneapolis. And I think one of the reasons women especially in clerk position field organizers because in my experience in 15 years as a secretary you start you mentioned the word Union and you are fired in some instances. You're right out the door. A lot of employers don't want the clerical workers to unionize and if it's a real problem to unionize for clerical workers and most (00:29:27) instances. Bonnie and Carl reaction to this. Well, unfortunately that's been the history of the labor movement. If you done any read any labor history, you know that an awful lot of men had their heads beat in for that kind of talk to they didn't just lose their job. So we do anticipate those kinds of problems but there are of course labor laws and you are protected that is an unfair Labor practice. And if you've got somebody working with you to organize with the strength of the institution and the legal clout that I talked about before you do have protections from that that doesn't mean that you want to hang around and go back and work in the same place, but something else might develop and somebody has to carry the battle. I (00:30:10) agree. We've had time for only a couple of questions on the issue of sexual harassment on the job and I want to cover that just a couple more minutes and I wonder if both of you could respond to this what evidence is there to show that enforcement of anti-discrimination laws is a Effective tool for people working in offices. Does it work on employers do they indeed become impressed with the power of the law and that they must do abide by (00:30:38) I think what's most impressive to employers particularly some of the larger employers is that power of the dollar? You know, we've had a number of suits that have resulted in some very large Financial settlements and it is that sort of thing that will make employers change but there are a lot of ways around the laws and individual cases. If we try to change the world one person at a time, we would all be old and gray with enormous beards in the case of men before there were real change for a significant number of (00:31:10) women sexual discrimination Carol. I am led to believe can take a very subtle form and I'm reminded of the apples versus apples comparison that some of the afscme literature sites. (00:31:21) Hmm. Well apples and apples is the federal Equal Pay Act where we have had employers who identified Particularly in the janitorial service area of a male category of janitors and female category of custodians or maids and there was about a hundred dollars a month difference in those two salaries that law said that that's illegal and we were able to adjust that and in fact the state of Minnesota had to pay something like $100,000 back paved to the females in Minnesota for that change, but the subtle one is the apples and oranges where the driver who is in a male category as paid a hundred dollars or more a month than the woman who is in the office and that one is when we're having to work in the process is called comparable worth and it's equal pay for equal value of work. And that's something we're just working on. We're just beginning to identify it and to get the data that's necessary. Then (00:32:25) we have one more caller on the line and we'll get to that final question right now. Good afternoon. (00:32:29) On the air. Hi, thank you. If this question has been asked and answered before just say so because I had my machines on but I have friends who were secretaries and in the thing that I guess bothers them. The most is the sexual abuse that they have to endure in the office from there the male workers and their bosses and I want to know what if there's any evidence that unions give women the kind of support. They need to combat this of sexual abuse (00:33:02) indeed we do and we're working at identifying the difficulty here is identifying. When is it sexual abuse or sexual harassment? And when is it somebody that's just uncomfortable and doesn't know how quite to deal with somebody or when are we being too sensitive and overreacting and that can occur. There was no harassment or abuse intended someone because of Era that that a man grew up in he may think that that's the kind of complementary thing to say or do to a woman whereas you and I may not share that view and we need to figure out some ways of asserting our position on that but it may not in fact be a violation of our rights and we need to work that out I think and identify when is it wrong? And when is it? Okay, and when do you deal with it this way? And when do you file a grievance and back it up with some kind of power the power of numbers in a sense that certain kinds of behavior are absolutely no longer acceptable and women in large numbers will not tolerate it. (00:34:10) Well, thanks both of you. We've been talking to Bonnie Watkins from the Council on the economic status of women in st. Paul and to Carol Flynn who's associate director of counsel six of the American Federation of state county and Municipal Employees. Thanks again, and as usual thanks to our listeners for the excellent questions the time now about 20 minutes before one o'clock. This is Dan Olson will turn it back now to Bob Potter.