Wednesday, June 13, 2012


So I was talking to a liberal friend about a movie she had enjoyed which was about a group of women, in a union, fighting for ‘equal pay for equal work’ in a car plant in the UK. There was this scene she had especially enjoyed. This is how I remember her describing it to me -- The women have been in a meeting with senior management and when questioned about whether the woman’s job was as complicated as the men’s jobs one of the women pulled several pieces of material out of her purse and challenged the manager to figure out how to put these together into a seat cover with no diagram, like the women have to do. After the meeting one of the others asks this woman how she thought to bring the parts to a seat cover. The woman answers that these weren’t seat cover pieces but scraps she just happened to have. --  my friend seemed admiring and celebratory at how clever these women had been in proving their point.
First we had to straighten up my confusion because when I heard ‘for equal work’ I assumed that the women in question were doing the same work, with no more difference than 6 of one, half a dozen on the other. But apparently, the argument was that the women were just as much skilled machines operators as any of the men though they were using different machines and making different parts. (It seems to me that as a general principal skill operating different machines can have different levels of skill rarity and thus would call for different levels of pay. So gender rights would be a complication with the main issue a straightforward union management negotiation where two different groups competed for their own self interests in bureaucratic classifications.)
But after I understood that, there was still something about the story that bothered me. I realized what it was this week when I was looking at the coverage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, and thinking that I would like it if being open about your paycheck were more common and encouraged. The women in the movie I had heard about weren’t being open and honest with the management. In the fictional version I heard the implicit challenge was actually impossible because the right pieces were not actually presented. Because the women’s overall goal, to be in the same pay range as the men, was worthy the deceitfulness of their tactics doesn’t seem to count.
This leads me to a general question: When we a business deal is honest, what do we mean? I think we generally mean something more or different from “Nobody told an outright lie” but what exactly?

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