Thursday, July 01, 2010


It’s not in my job description

Amy Alkon comments on this item from the New York Daily News:

Equal Pay For Equal Work...

Doesn’t that mean...equal pay for equal work? Meaning...the women do the same work the men have to do?

According to a story by John Marzulli in the New York Daily News, one of the charges in a harassment suit against the NYPD accuses the department of having a female officer perform heavy manual tasks normally assigned to males.

Sorry, but is that discrimination...or equality?

Now, the officer’s complaint points out a number of things, and the one singled out above is taken out of context. So let’s look at the issue of what constitutes job requirements, and, therefore, what can fairly be required of employees.

When I worked at IBM, my job involved computer software stuff, management stuff, working with people in other parts of the company, working with other companies, and so on. Once in a while, of course, we’d need to move a piece of equipment, but my job did not involve moving heavy things. That said, if we needed to shift a 21-inch CRT display[1] from one place in the lab to another, I’d either muscle it myself or ask someone to help me carry it.

Alternatively, I could have called a mover in; we had people on site to do just that sort of thing. Put in a request, and they’ll be there in a day or two. Call directly and ask nicely, and you could often get someone over within the hour, if they weren’t already swamped.

But we’d do it ourselves, usually, because we could, and it was easier and quicker. It wasn’t, though, part of the job, and no manager would assign it to any of us. And, indeed, it’s not reasonable to ask a 110-pound person — of either sex — to move a bulky computer display that weighs more than 70 pounds.

Police departments don’t likely have movers sitting around at the stations, and when some heavy stuff has to get moved, they can call in contractors and wait a few days... or they can ask the officers who are there to do it. We can be sure that a sergeant is more likely to ask a couple of 250-pound men to do the moving, and less likely to call on a 130-pound woman.

But more to the point: what are the police officers there for? Is it to lift heavy stuff? Or is it to do any number of things we more commonly associate with police work?


And, so, the point here is that we do things that aren’t strictly in our job descriptions, because it just makes sense to go ahead and do them. It helps us get things done, and it helps us get along. And in doing those things, we don’t worry so much about spreading the work as we do about who’d best suited to do it and get us all back to what we’re supposed to be doing.

It’s likely that the heavy manual tasks in Officer Glover’s complaint fell into this category, and they were normally assigned to males for exactly these sorts of reasons.[2] That they were given to her was not a question of doling out job-related work, but formed part of a pattern of workplace behaviour that was meant to give her a hard time for being a woman in a man’s job, and for being a lesbian, on top of that. And that she objected does not bring into question her fitness for the job — the job that she was hired to do.

So, to answer Ms Alkon’s direct question: No, it’s not equality. It’s abusive behaviour — not on its own, but as part of an established pattern.

[1] They’re heavy — more than 70 pounds each.

[2] I suspect that the men could also complain about such assignments and refuse to do them, and I suspect that the union would back their refusal. They don’t refuse, because it’s all part of doing what needs to be done and getting along.

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