By Claire Syrett
In spite of many signs of increased equality between women and men in our society, the disturbing fact is that in 2019, women earn 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. In other words, the average American woman has to work an extra three months every year just to catch up to earnings of the average American man.
Unfortunately for many of the women workers at Fred Meyer, pay inequity is a daily reality due to Fred Meyer’s practices and policies. This is a deeply entrenched problem, and we have a chance to stop it, right here in our community.
It was 1963 when President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, but at the current rate our country is going equal pay won’t become a reality until 2058, nearly a full century later. And despite commendable legislative solutions to pay equity in states across the country, including Oregon, the pay gap has persisted. This speaks to deeply embedded structural barriers keeping women from advancing in the workplace.
Overcoming those barriers is made more challenging by the fact that we live in an economy rigged in favor of those who already hold most wealth and power. While technological advances have made our economy increasingly more productive, frontline workers are not reaping the benefits.
From 1973 to 2017 worker productivity increased by 77 percent in the U.S., but wages have remained essentially stagnant. The wealth created by this greater efficiency goes instead to corporate profits. The money that trickles down to workers is not evenly divided. The average man makes 21 percent more than the average woman, and the gap is even larger for woman of color.
While none of this may come as a surprise, it is shocking to learn that we have a prime example of this dynamic at play right here in our own community.
Fred Meyer, the iconic Oregon company with three large stores in Lane County, is engaged in scheduling practices that contribute to the pay discrepancy between women and men. When a worker is hired at Fred Meyer, they are either placed to work in “Schedule A” or “Schedule B.” They do not get to choose for themselves.
Per Fred Meyer policy, the rate of pay in “Schedule A” is almost 25 percent higher on average than that of workers on “Schedule B,” but women are twice as likely to be placed in “Schedule B.”
This means the average worker in “Schedule B” makes more than $200 less per month and around $122,000 less over a career with Fred Meyer.
Meanwhile, Kroger, which owns Fred Meyer, is pulling in billions of dollars in profits annually. For many families $200 per month can be the difference between struggling to get by and ensuring a healthy and comfortable life for growing children. Consider what $200 means for you and your family. It could be a car payment, a medical bill, or enough money to cover monthly rent. For many Eugene residents, $200 a month is a step up the ladder towards prosperity. We cannot allow this inequity to continue to go unchallenged in our community. We must call for change.
We need to fix the gap at Fred Meyer, and at any company that is not giving equal pay for equal work.
As a union member and supporter, I am proud to stand together with workers and advocates to call on Kroger and Fred Meyer to fix the gap between pay for male and female employees by changing this arcane scheduling policy. As a Eugene City Councilor, I take to heart issues of pay inequity that result in unnecessary hardship for our community. Equality and justice are core values that Eugene residents hold dear.
Fred Meyer, please take a hard look at your values and right the wrongs in your hiring and scheduling practices. Step up to show that your values align with those of your customers and workers in Eugene. Be a leader in fixing the pay gap between women and men and set an example for others to follow. It’s the right thing to do.
Claire Syrett has served on the Eugene City Council since 2012 representing Ward 7. She is employed as a labor relations representative with the Oregon Nurses Association and a proud member of Teamsters Local 223.