A new compensation standard: equal pay for equal worth in Washington State

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Comparable worth is a compensation strategy which goes beyond the equal pay standard. It uses job evaluation to measure job worth across occupations in the same organization. Rather than relying solely on prevailing market rates, the employer identifies compensable factors. Salary ranges are determined by how much each factor is present in the job.

Washington is an appropriate case because it coined the term comparable worth, led the nation in conducting pay equity studies of its workforce, and is the only state to implement a negotiated agreement. The dissertation examines the implementation process and suggests how others can benefit from the state’s experience. The case is reported in two phases, with the lawsuit as pivotal point. During the ten-year policy development period, interest groups, the union, and personnel staffs gathered data. However, the various study recommendations did not culminate in statutory action, so the union filed suit. The second phase begins with negotiations and the plan itself. Analysis of this period focuses on the problems encountered since the plan went into effect.

Six driving forces explain the actions and activities which moved the idea from concept to practice: (a) awareness of inequity, (b) actions of key political actors, (c) economic pressures, (d) the lawsuit, (e) time constraints, and (f) personnel capabilities.

Several implications suggest how the dissertation can help other employers who are contemplating this new pay standard. When pay equity studies are conducted, some follow-up action should be forthcoming. Second, a comparable worth plan requires extensive preparation, not only in the agenda-building stage, but in program development. Third, all job classes should be evaluated to avoid problems of class distortion and disruption. All implementing officials should be included in the planning process. Fourth, comparable worth does not require new methodologies. Most employers are familiar with job evaluation techniques, hence the tools are available already. Finally, comparable worth does not need to be implemented as a woman's issue. It is a compensation strategy which addresses all undervalued occupations. For these reasons, it is a significant mechanism for evaluating dissimilar jobs and correcting wage inequities.