Gender in the City – after a Respectful Wait

Herb Dempsey

Women are second class citizens in Tacoma.  The public record said this was true 30 years ago and it is true today. The facts were detailed before the United States Commission on Civil Rights in July of 1980. The reasoning in cases of disparate hiring is simple: the city should hire the same proportion of women in family wage jobs as live in the City of Tacoma. Perhaps that is too simple, but any other wording makes the word, “fair,” into a political discussion of discrimination, [Discrimination is O.K. if…"  We have all seen the Progressive Insurance TV ad where Flo gets incensed by the narrator’s statement that men do the hard work and earn the salary while the “little woman” sits at home.  In Tacoma there are more single heads of household who are women than are men. The census shows that male single heads of household are 9.7% of all households, while female single heads of household surpass that at 25.3%.

A little over a year ago a year ago, The Pierce Progressive published an article about the city of Tacoma and its hiring practices as related to sex. I submitted a request that specific departments explain their visibly sexist hiring practice and waited while they, the city’s departments, had a chance to get their houses in order and come up with the new set of numbers and the machinery to file them, or at least deal with getting a new set of numbers and figuring out how to file them. I figured it would probably take six months to make any meaningful changes in hiring process and another six months to accumulate enough numbers to give us something remotely reliable and presumably valid to show their good intentions.

The good news is the calendar has chunked along and we are now over a year from the time that article was published. The article, you will remember, was based on public documents going back as far as the late 80's. The bad news is women are still receiving "the fuzzy end of the lollipop" in Tacoma’s hiring system. Sure, Tacoma has committed itself, in writing both in 2004 and 2014 to produce an employment profile that approximates the target population.

In round numbers about half of the people paying taxes in Tacoma are female. The City's practices which PPO published online shows that their hiring does not reflect this gender balance. While responding to the need for greater equity, the Tacoma City Manager, T. C. Broadnax, took a position in a number of publicly available statements that implied that change was about to occur. He didn't use the phrase, "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," when he said there would be changes in the Human Resources department. But that is exactly what he did, as he moved people from one arena to another.

I wrote to various members in positions of administrative authority in several of the program areas in Tacoma and have still received only one response to the question, loosely worded as, "Why are you such sexists in your hiring practices?”  Here is a sample letter. Of the seven departments only the Police Department responded. The rest decided Jerry Lee,Senior Analyst of Human Resources, would answer the question. I learned that, when we got all of their emails “to, from, for, of and about” the responses to the letter we sent.

So, I waited a respectful period of time and obtained the information on new hires from the date of the earlier article to October 1, 2014.  I glanced quickly at the file and decided it would be a cold day in hell before Tacoma ever makes a living wage for women part of their hiring plans. Yes, I know they have policies and resolutions saying they will expand hiring from this protected group, women, from 2004, but they don't have any practice in the public record that says that they are expanding that hiring.

In a quick look at the sample available, the rail program has hired 13 new employees. Of that 13 one is female. That makes their hiring during the test (target) period 8% female. The boys captured 92% of those lucrative family wage jobs in the rail department. You notice I reported, "rail," rather than, "the City," because I believe these are all little fiefdoms and institutional memory says the individual department’s operations are fundamentally driven by those local values not in the city of Tacoma, but in their own little departmental allegiance. Taking two other sets of numbers: the six new police officers are 100%male; the 16 police officer recruits are 75% male and the 15 new male firefighters comprise 75% of that department’s new hires.  From another perspective, if we look at all of the new hires who are scheduled to make more than $100,000 per year, we learn that men are favored by being 62.5% of that wage category.  In actual dollar amounts in the aggregate the women lose by well over a half million.  The top males aggregated receive $1,377,750 while the new female employees garner $677,997.