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The study of a large comparable worth project and of how gender and class dynamics influenced its outcome

Doing Comparable Worth

Gender, Class, and Pay Equity

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Joan Acker

Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award, American Sociological Association, 1993

Jessie Bernard Prize of the American Sociological Association for Life Achievement, 1989

"This is the first complete description of the process of developing and implementing comparable worth in the United States. It shows clearly how different interests become enmeshed in the process and transfrom the project by their presence. The result is that the political conflicts become more understandable. Perhaps more importantly, Acker locates the struggle over comparable worth theoretically…. A significant contribution to the debate over comparable worth and more broadly to the analysis of class and gender."
Roslyn L. Feldberg, Associate Director, Labor Relations, Massachusetts Nurses Association

Doing Comparable Worth is the first empirical study of the actual process of attempting to translate into reality the idea of equal pay for work of equal value. This political ethnography documents a large project undertaken by the state of Oregon to evaluate 35,000 jobs of state employees, identify gender-based pay inequities, and remedy these inequities. The book details both the technical and political processes, showing how the technical was always political, how management manipulated and unions resisted wage redistribution, and how initial defeat was turned into partial victory for pay equity by labor union women and women's movement activists.

As a member of the legislative task force that was responsible for implementing the legislation requiring a pay equity study in Oregon, Joan Acker gives an insider's view of how job evaluation, job classification, and the formulation of an equity plan were carried out. She reveals many of the political and technical problems in doing comparable worth that are not evident to outsiders. She also places comparable worth within a feminist theoretical perspective.

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Reviews

"Joan Acker provides a rich historical account of attempts in Oregon to formulate and implement a pay equity plan for state employees.... [She also] provides fascinating and convincing evidence of how deeply ingrained in existing pay systems are gender specific images of work.... Those with an interest in feminist scholarship and contemporary history should appreciate the care with which this important story has been reconstructed."
Science

"Acker...brings her sophisticated theoretical skills to bear on describing and analyzing the effort to implement a comparable-worth salary settlement for state employees in Oregon.... The complex issues are addressed in a readable and concrete style that makes this accessible to upper-division undergraduates; it is essential reading for graduate students and faculty."
Choice

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Contents

1. Introduction
2. Competing Interests, Multiple Goals
3. Reproducing Hierarchy—or Job Evaluation in Oregon
4. True Comparable Worth: The Technical as Political
5. From True Comparable Worth to Poverty Relief
6. Doing Comparable Worth: Theorizing Gender and Class
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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About the Author(s)

Joan Acker is Professor of Sociology at the University of Oregon and winner of the 1989 Jessie Bernard Prize of the American Sociologial Association for life achievement.

Subject Categories

Political Science and Public Policy
Women's Studies
Sociology


In the series

Women in the Political Economy, edited by Ronnie J. Steinberg.

No longer active.

Women in the Political Economy, edited by Ronnie J. Steinberg, includes books on women and issues of work, family, social movements, politics, feminism, and empowerment. It emphasizes women's roles in society and the social construction of gender and also explores current policy issues like comparable worth, international development, job training, and parental leave.

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