Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pay Parity

We often hear of unions seeking pay parity with other workers. Invariably, a pay raise and possibly some back pay are required to right the supposed unfairness. No doubt there are legitimate cases, but I suspect that most are not.

My direct experience is mostly with programmers. Organizations have different philosophies when it comes to paying programmers. Some seek the best talent they can find and give them above-average pay. Most offer average pay and get average talent, and still others offer low pay and try to get by with whoever will work for them.

It is too easy for programmers at one company to look at another company’s pay scales and complain. The truth is that most complainers would be rejected if they tried to get a job with the higher-paying company. Superficially, all programmers do similar work, but when we get down to details it is normal for one company’s programmers to be far superior to another company’s programmers. When this is true, demands for pay parity make little sense.

With this experience as a backdrop, I tend to be skeptical of any claim that one group of workers does the same work as another and deserve pay parity. If this were true, why aren’t members of the lower-paying group leaving to get jobs with the higher-paying group? The answer is often that the better workers actually do this and thus create a meaningful difference in talent between the two groups.


  1. It's a lame negotiation tactic.

    I don't blame unions for squeezing the last drop of money out of our governments.

    I am just disappointed that our government officials are so easy with out money. I expect my government to squeeze the last drop of productivity at the lowest cost from my government staff.

  2. @P2Sam: I wish that governments were closer to squeezing "the last drop of productivity at the lowest cost from my government staff," but we're a long way from that. I had an exchange recently with a government insurance program where I was repeatedly asked for an "original" copy of a form from another insurance company. All my dealings with my insurance company have been electronic for years. They sometimes mail me a print out, but this is just on crappy paper without letterhead. The government workers couldn't understand this. It's only government workers who ever ask me to fax anything any more. Much of the technology efficiencies don't seem to have made it to government.