Temenos Journal II

July 25, 2011

A David & Goliath Tale – No. 1

I’m not afraid to take on the big cats.

The first time I took an unpopular stand against a daunting authority figure was when I was 19 or 20… working for a company called Tube Craft in Cleveland, Ohio.

I was quiet and focused on the job then, just like I am now. I started out as a “shipping clerk.” I learned quickly and soon got promoted to something like a production expeditor (? I don’t remember…). I do remember that the guy who worked side by side with me and who trained me was a tall blonde young man around my age. He was a nice guy, happily married, and we became pals and sometimes went out to lunch together.

The company was expanding and soon there was another guy around our age… a dark-haired shorter Italian guy. This time I was the one who trained him and we all did the same kind of work and became pals and often went out to lunch together.

One day, the tall blonde guy was complaining that he had to ask for a raise. “My wife and I have a baby on the way. We can’t make it on $XX per week.”

I think he was making about 30-40% more than I was.

Now I had been a feminist since the 6th grade when I challenged the recess monitor, Mr. Lehman: “How come the boys get the good kickball field and the girls get the junky one?” It just so happened that when I got home from work that day, the headline in the Plain Dealer said something like “GE (or some other huge corporation) must pay ($ some huge amount) in back wages to female employees in class action pay discrimination lawsuit.” It was a huge victory for feminists who were working to achieve equal pay for equal work at the time.

The next morning, little soft-spoken Genie went in to see the immediate supervisor, Frank Petrovich. I showed him the headlines and asked him “Did you know that it’s illegal not to pay women the same wages for equal work?” Frank was a really nice guy and a great boss. He said, “I was wondering when you would bring that up. I’m sorry but I can’t do anything about it. You’re going to have to take it up with Mr. Wiley (the president of the company).”

Bruce Wiley was ancient, but authoritative and an intimidating figure. Everyone was afraid to talk to Mr. Wiley and I was no exception. Although he did have a soft spot for young girls like me. So when I asked to see him, I was given an appointment.

I brought the Plain Dealer headlines with me. He was friendly and all smiley with his pale complexion and fine white hair and he invited me to have a seat. I sat across from him at his huge shiny desk and I put the newspaper headlines down in front of him. He adjusted his wire-rimmed specs and took a look and his pale face turned a bright shade of pink and his smiley-smiley face went dark.

I bravely asked him, “Mr. Wiley, are you aware that it is illegal to pay women less than men when they are doing the same work?”

He was angry that I would even ask such a question. “Young lady,” (I’ll never forget his words) “In this company we compare the women with the women and the men with the men.”

“I know you do, Mr. Wiley. But now that’s against the law.”

Mr. Wiley was really angry now. “What makes you think you’re worth more than Viola May, or Betty Sadowski?!! I don’t care what the law is! We compare the women with the women and the men with the men here.”

Then I did something that amazes me now. I mustered up all my courage and I said, “With all due respect, Mr. Wiley, this practice is illegal, and I am going to take steps to protect my rights by the law.” (My heart was pounding!)

Mr. Wiley never spoke to me again and I became a pariah in that company. The guys wouldn’t eat lunch with me anymore. The women would avert their eyes. And I was just a sweet young girl!

I think I took a day off to go downtown to fill out a report at the Ohio EEOC. Long story short… I won the case. And Mr. Wiley’s Tube Craft had to pay me all the back pay which was the difference between the guys’ wages and mine. I think that was the first time I took on Goliath and won.

But it wasn’t the last time…

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