April 05, 2020

Labor pains Statistics show women’s wages in Maine still lag behind men’s

In 1985, MaryAnn Cupero was dissatisfied by the low wages she earned as a cloth mender at Guilford Woolen Mill, so she took courses to obtain her truck driver’s license. Although it was unusual for a woman to enter the truck driving field, Cupero said she was determined to succeed. Last year she made $100,000 hauling motorcycles for Harley-Davidson.

“It took a long time to sink in that I was making that kind of money. Harley-Davidson is a coveted trucking job. You have to be a million-mile driver and incident-free,” Cupero said. “It wasn’t as much about the money as I was able to get the job. I’m a woman from Maine and got a job based in Pennsylvania. I felt pretty proud of that fact.”

Cupero, 55, of Abbot made enough money with Harley-Davidson to quit her job this past summer to start Alternate Route, her own statewide Class A truck driver training school.

The Women’s Employment Issues Committee of the Maine Jobs Council hopes to see more women follow in Cupero’s footsteps, especially after the committee gathered data showing a significant gap between men’s and women’s earnings in Maine.

The latest labor statistics from a 2004 U.S. Census survey were included in a report called Working Women in Maine: Initial Indicators for Progress, published earlier this month. The report indicates that full-time female workers in Maine earned 77 percent of what full-time male workers earned. The national average was 76 percent.

Maine has the 18th-smallest wage gap in the nation, according to the report.

The report does not list the wage gap from past years, but Sharon Barker, chair of the Women’s Employment Issues Committee and director of the Women’s Resource Center at the University of Maine, said that while the gap closed significantly in the 1980s, it has remained about the same since the 1990s.

Past wage reports have examined the wages of part-time and full-time working men and women, and the wage gap was often explained by the large number of women who work part time or quit working to raise a family, Barker said. This study attempted to control for that factor by examining only the wages of full-time working men and women.

“Even when you control for part-time workers, there still is a wage gap between men and women. What that indicates is that there is discrimination in some form that is affecting women’s wages,” Barker said.

The report said the impact of discrimination on women’s wages is “largely immeasurable” but remains a problem not to be ignored. Discrimination includes failure to be promoted despite equal qualifications, failure to earn a comparable wage for comparable work, or failure to be hired in the first place. Such practices, along with sexual harassment, can hurt women’s productivity and also dissuade women from seeking employment in higher-paying, male-dominated sectors, the report said.

“Wage discrimination is not egregious, not overt, but the net effect on women is tremendous,” Barker said.

To resolve the issue of pay discrimination, the United States Congress passed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, requiring equal wages for men and women doing equal work. In 1965, Maine put forth its own legislation to expand on the federal law by mandating comparable pay for men and women performing comparable labor. Eleven other states since have raised their standards by using “comparative” terminology to appropriately address situations in which one gender earns less than another.

The Wage and Hour Division of the state Department of Labor lists skill, effort and responsibility as its criteria for determining which jobs are comparable.

“We also look at experience or education related to the job and whether one employee has worked for the business longer than the other,” said Anne Harriman, director of the Wage and Hour Division.

Harriman oversees a staff of four inspectors who patrol the state enforcing all labor laws, including child labor laws, minimum wage requirements and overtime compensation. But specific audits for gender pay discrimination are typically undertaken only when complaints are filed.

“We’re looking at what we can do to better educate employers and employees,” Harriman said, referring to the wage gap. “We need somebody who could go out and perform general wage gap audits, interviews with employees and investigate payroll records.”

Harriman said the division receives an average of six to eight complaints a year from women who believe their employer is paying them unfairly. The complaints usually are invalid, and the employer is not found to be discriminatory, Harriman said, but there have been instances where the employer has been forced to raise the pay and pay back wages.

Barker is concerned that more women are underpaid and just not stepping forward.

“Women don’t want to believe they’re being discriminated against,” Barker said.

The report does offer a more calculable explanation for the wage gap in Maine: women’s choice of occupation.”Women taking lower-paying jobs arises from a long-term practice,” said Sally Davis, a coordinator at Women, Work and Community, a statewide nonprofit that provides training, advocacy and assistance to women in the workplace. “We want to increase women’s awareness of higher-paying jobs and higher-skill jobs in trades and technology.”

Initiatives such as on-the-job training, apprenticeships and other programs may help women advance their pay, the report said. Women placed in nontraditional occupations, or NTOs, by Maine’s One-Stop Career Centers earned an average hourly wage of $11.79 compared to women’s overall average hourly placement wage of $9.80. Women entering NTOs also earned $0.76 an hour more than men placed in NTOs through the Career Centers, according to the state Bureau of Employment Services 2004 NTO Report.

Education seems to be another step women are taking toward closing the wage gap, the Maine Jobs Council report said. Women outnumber men at every tier of postsecondary education in Maine, except for doctoral and professional degrees such as law and medicine. Still, the gender wage gap remains high even for well-educated women, the report said.

Laurie Lachance, president and CEO of the Maine Development Foundation, said entire families are affected by the wage gap.

“To the extent that the woman is the head of the household in a single-parent household and their wages are not what they should be puts the child at risk of poverty,” Lachance said.

Lachance also noted that with lower pay, women do not have the capacity to add to savings at the rate men do. This results in a greater likelihood that women will not have sufficient resources in retirement, Lachance said.

“It’s not just about fairness, it’s a future economic issue,” Lachance said.

Barker said Maine is seeing excellent results from its nontraditional occupations support efforts, and hopes Maine will close the wage gap.

William Murphy, director of the Bureau of Labor Education at the University of Maine, agreed with Barker.

“While Maine has made progress in reducing inequality for women, continued work and progress in this area is greatly needed,” Murphy said.

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