County to study gender wage gap

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Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato says there were a number of job and pay disparities for women and minorities in the executive levels of county government when he took office in 2003.

He fixed all of them, he said, including raising the salary of a director of the county Department of Minority, Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, by as much as $30,000, to bring her salary up to par with her peers.

But the changes at the executive level, he said, may have had little to no impact on the wage and job classification disparities that likely still exist in the other levels of county government.

And that is why Mr. Onorato now wants to study all job classifications in county government in an effort to correct any wage gap that may still exist for minority and female county employees.

"People performing the same work should receive the same pay regardless of their gender or race," Mr. Onorato said yesterday. He plans to introduce legislation to County Council next week, mandating a wage disparity study in 2010 and every five years onward.

Describing his proposal as a "social equity and responsible government" initiative, Mr. Onorato said he doesn't know that wage disparities exist in county government, but job classification disparities, which may cause unequal pay for women and minorities, likely do.

For years, different and independent arms of county government had different pay and job classification scales, he said. But as the county moved to consolidate many of its centuries-old independent offices, he added, job classification was one of the issues that was never settled.

The study is expected to cost between $50,000 and $100,000. The city of Pittsburgh commissioned a similar study last year.

Heather Arnet, executive director of the Women & Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania, said she welcomed the county's efforts to study and rectify wage disparities in county operations because the question of "the wage gap is now more relevant than ever" in light of the ongoing economic recession.

Mr. Onorato's plans, she said, are a good start to the 2009 Equal Pay Day Rally scheduled to start at noon today in Mellon Square.

Studies have consistently shown that women make about 20 percent less than their male peers in the workplace nationally, Ms. Arnet said, and in Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh, they make about 30 percent less.

"Women currently make up more than half of every university graduating class in the country. For a region that produces more than 35,000 new graduates each year, fixing our wage gap and raising it to at least mirror the national average must be a critical focus of our economic development efforts," she added.

This afternoon's rally will be an important reminder for both proponents of equal pay and for regional elected leaders, said Elizabeth Waickman of the Women & Girls Foundation.

"Ensuring fair wages means ensuring women and girls are equally valued in the work force and our region," said Ms. Waickman, an organizer of the rally. She added that Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and County Council and City Council Presidents Rich Fitzgerald and Doug Shields will be the key speakers, among others.

Karamagi Rujumba can be reached at or 412-263-1719.


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