UM women, charging bias, fault 40-hour week

January 25, 1991|By Patricia Meisol

For Donna Costa-Fletcher, being forced to go to a 40-hour workweek without a corresponding increase in salary means balancing a second job against visiting her 85-year-old grandmother, counseling battered women and, in the last two months, writing five letters a night to U.S. soldiers deployed in Saudi Arabia.

For Kathleen Maroney, it means having fewer hours each day to study for the three evening classes she committed herself to earlier this year.

For Sherri Allan, it means $3,000 more in child-care costs and transferring two of her three children to a new school that's closer to their baby sitter.

All three women -- secretaries or clerks at the University of Maryland's College Park campus -- say they are the victims of an unjust and discriminatory policy.

Recently, Gov. William Donald Schaefer moved to address a $423 million budget deficit by, among other things, ordering that state employees begin working 40-hour workweeks.

Yesterday, University of Maryland regents ordered all employees working 35 1/2 or 37 1/2 hours a week to begin working 40 hours a week, at the same pay. The change means six more weeks' work a year at 1987 pay rates, according to a group of university women that has studied the issue and intends to mount a statewide campaign to challenge it.

"They have insulted me," said Ms. Maroney. "The outrage I feel [at working more for less] far exceeds my worry on how I am ever to get my studies done."

According to the aggrieved workers, the new policy affects women disproportionately because they historically have been overrepresented in lower-paying clerical jobs with shorter hours. The exact number of people affected is still being tallied, the university employees said.

But so far, they said, at least 60 percent of the affected university staff are women. The new policy comes at a time when the university system has already moved many such employees to a 40-hour workweek with full pay. The people left working shorter hours -- until the policy change yesterday -- were secretaries, clerks, business managers and auditors. The largest affected group is the clerical staff, of which 92.8 percent are women and earning a biweekly starting salary of $688, according to the employees.

"I have been devalued," said Ruth Flynn, an administrative aide to the regional director of the University of Maryland's Co-operative Extension Service. Even though she says her skills are worth more than what she is being compensated for, she said she took the job because of the hours. Now, she said, "there's no trade-off value."

Requiring university employees to work more hours for the same amount of money amounts to an average 12 percent salary reduction, according to Joy Kroeger-Mappes, a Frostburg State University professor and chairwoman of a new women's forum for the 11 state university campuses.

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