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6 The Equal Pay Act of 1963: Compromise and Victory
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Organizing Support

Against this backdrop, the Women's Bureau staff organized the quest for equal pay legislation in the new Congress. The outgoing Eisenhower administration, which for eight years had supported equal pay bills in vain, again submitted a proposal before Kennedy's inauguration. Immediately after, Peterson arranged for meetings with Democratic congresswomen, representatives of organized labor, and the members of the National Committee on Equal Pay to review the legislative situation.[4] The retirement of Graham Barden, the unfriendly chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, made the situation much more tractable: his replacement, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., a black Democrat from New York, favored the bill.

As before, the conflicts about the measure focused on two items: the coverage of employees and the mode of enforcement. Several Democratic congresswomen, including Edith Green (D-Oreg.), had introduced bills modeled on the broad coverage of the National Labor Relations Act (which applied to industries "affecting" interstate commerce). These bills granted enforcement authority to the secretary of labor. Two Republican legislators, Jessica Weis and Katharine St. George (both from New York), had introduced bills modeled on the narrower Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA, which covered employers "engaged in" interstate commerce). Their proposals provided for judicial enforcement. The AFL-CIO had cleared the Green bill before its introduction, and equal pay advocates within the Department of Labor initially wanted the administration to support it as well, a course of action urged by experienced staffers to eliminate the problem of competing bills.[5]

Under the direction of the Women's Bureau, opinion quickly coalesced around a compromise proposal. The administration bill would adopt the FLSA-based coverage of the Republican bills to facilitate administration by the Wage and Hour Division


of the Department of Labor, which oversaw the FLSA; however, it would retain the provision of the Green bill that gave "cease and desist" powers to the secretary of labor, as the AFL-CIO wanted. The Solicitor's Office of the Labor Department agreed to draft the bill.[6] In the meantime, the Women's Bureau set out to accumulate statistical evidence establishing the need for federal legislation—ostensibly a major impediment in the past. J. A. Beirne, president of the Communications Workers of America, wrote to Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg in February 1961 informing him that at past hearings the union had been "tremendously impressed by the lack of authoritative data on male-female wage differentials for workers doing the same work in a given plant or office location." Internal studies by the CWA showed no such wage differentials, according to Beirne; rather, discrimination took place in women's not being permitted to apply for the higher-paying jobs. Beirne expressed hesitation about supporting an equal pay bill without such data, attributing past failures to this omission. Beirne recommended that the government act to equalize employment opportunities in the event that widespread wage differentials could not be found.[7]

So, while the AFL-CIO studied the administration's draft bill, the Women's Bureau wrote to dozens of women's organizations and labor unions, asking them to use their resources to supply specific examples of wage discrimination. Reluctant to employ instances only from unionized plants, Peterson requested the AFL-CIO's organization director to have his staff look for cases from nonunion shops. In addition, promising confidentiality, the Women's Bureau wrote to state labor departments, hoping for instances from adjudicated cases or settlements. Finally, Peterson wrote to women who had complained to the bureau about wage discrimination in the past, asking them about their present situation and soliciting leads to cases.[8]

With the Women's Bureau now actively engaged in shoring up the coalition and gathering data, Arthur Goldberg decided to turn over to the bureau the entire lobbying effort on the bill as well. The department's Legislative Liaison Office had no particular interest in it—it had been around "forever"—and he assumed the bureau would work harder at getting the bill through Con-


gress. In March 1961 Esther Peterson hired Morag Simchak, a lobbyist for the United Rubber Workers, to take charge.[9]

The White House Legislative Liaison Office also left the effort to the Women's Bureau. John Kennedy had supported equal pay legislation during his tenure in Congress, but without vigor. He introduced a bill in 1951 at the request of former House representative Mary T. Norton, who was then working as an aide to the secretary of labor, but did no more than that. In 1957, when he was chairman of the labor subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, he cosponsored an equal pay measure with Senator Wayne Morse and others but did not hold hearings on the bill despite a request to do so. A confidential listing of the standing of White House legislative proposals omitted equal pay legislation under both "major" and "minor" headings. Thus the "administration effort" on behalf of equal pay legislation became more and more localized in the Women's Bureau office at the Department of Labor.[10]

The Women's Bureau managed at least to bring its regular constituents into line. The AFL-CIO disliked the narrowed, FLSA-based coverage of the bill, but acquiesced. The National Committee on Equal Pay, composed of many of Peterson's old colleagues, including Caroline Davis of the United Automobile Workers, Mary Anderson, the first director of the Women's Bureau, Helen Berthelot of the Communications Workers, and Olya Margolin of the National Council of Jewish Women, quickly concurred. By mutual agreement, Edith Green, who had sponsored equal pay legislation ever since her election to the House of Representatives, was named chief sponsor in that body. Wayne Morse (D-Oreg.), an originator of equal pay legislation in 1945, and Patrick McNamara (D-Mich.), whose subcommittee would consider the bill, would introduce the bill in the Senate.[11]

Although the Department of Labor and the White House expressed solid support for the bill, other administration officials tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to block the measure. Under Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz wrote Goldberg in early May 1961: "Arthur: I am not in favor of this proposal. I think it is utterly unrealistic and that if such a bill were adopted it would be the worst failure since the 18th Amendment. Nor am I per-


suaded that this is either necessary or good public relations." The Bureau of the Budget, too, expressed reservations about the need for such a bill and delayed its approval while awaiting cost estimates.[12]

Nevertheless, by the end of July Esther Peterson was able to write to AFL-CIO legislative director George Riley that "things are moving along at last."[13] The administration bill was sent to the House and Senate in August 1961. In his transmittal letter to the president of the Senate, Goldberg observed that unequal wages had an adverse impact on both purchasing power and worker morale, which in turn hindered production, a key concern of the Kennedy administration. Equal pay, Goldberg contended, would prevent employers from using women to undercut the wages of male workers and would bring the workplace closer to the ideals of American justice.[14]

Equal pay legislation also received the endorsement of the President's Commission on the Status of Women, a move Peterson orchestrated. At its first meeting in February 1962, Eleanor Roosevelt, the commission chairman, commented: "I should think this was a fairly safe thing to take up,"[15] and she told the press that the commission believed that unequal wages for comparable work were "contrary to the concept of equality and justice in which we believe."[16]

While the Women's Bureau staff shepherded the bill through legislative channels, data in support of the bill began to come in from the Women's Bureau constituents. The American Association of University Women produced a study of men and women in executive positions that disclosed discriminating pay practices in many companies. Caroline Davis of the UAW supplied material about a recent strike that resulted in the reduction of pay differentials between men and women, not to zero, but to ten cents an hour. Hattie Trazenfeld of the BPW reported on cases collected from that organization's membership, and the Women's Bureau discovered specific wage differentials in about a dozen union contracts from 1959 to 1961.[17] Peterson herself sought cases as she traveled around the country. At one point, a manager told her that unequal pay scales were "equitable." When, over coffee, she pressed him for his meaning, he offered lame justifications, which she contended she did not understand.


Finally he said to her: "Mrs. Peterson, don't do this to me. You know we pay them less because we can get them for less," an explanation Peterson often repeated in discussions with members of Congress.[18]

Thus, proponents were well prepared for the hearings that took place in March 1962, before a select subcommittee on labor headed by Herbert Zelenko (D-N.Y.) of the House Education and Labor Committee. Arthur Goldberg led off, addressing himself to the principle of equal pay legislation, then Peterson offered individual stories and surveys of wages in particular cities, including a Women's Bureau study of work orders for public employment revealing 120 job requests that offered men higher wages than women. Representatives from both sides of the aisle spoke in favor, as did delegates of various labor unions who called for the bill's enactment in order to bring nonunion shops and less enlightened unions than their own into line with the principle. Emma Guffey Miller, now chairman of the National Woman's party, supported the bill as befitted a devoted Democrat but spent most of her testimony arguing for the Equal Rights Amendment. (Privately, Miller called the measure "the so-called equal pay bill"; another NWP member characterized it as "a smart dodge for the people who want to spike the movement for real equality.")[19] Katherine Peden, president of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs, appeared for that organization's 175,000 members and offered examples of unequal pay from BPW files. The American Association of University Women and the National Councils of Jewish, Catholic, and Negro Women also sent contingents. The National Association of Manufacturers did not attend but filed a statement affirming its belief in equal pay and its opposition to federal "intervention." Additional hearings also took place in New York, where such notables as Eleanor Roosevelt and Bette Davis testified, along with several more organizations. No one offered opposing arguments.[20]

A clean bill incorporating changes suggested in the hearings received unanimous endorsement from the House committee. The administrative enforcement provision had been lost, which irritated the AFL-CIO, and a section excluding employers with fewer than twenty-five employees was added, but the commit-


tee included a new provision expressly forbidding employers to lower the wage rates of male employees to comply. During the House debate on the rule, Representative Katharine St. George (R-N.Y.) declared that she did not see how anyone could oppose the legislation: "It would be like being against motherhood."[21] Nevertheless, many representatives had specific objections. Chief among them was the language of the key clause, requiring "equal pay for comparable work." In response, Katharine St. George proposed substituting the phrase "equal pay for equal work."

Bills concerning equal pay for women had always used the terminology "comparable work" requiring "comparable skills," rather than "equal work." Opponents of the bill objected that comparability would prove virtually impossible to determine, but advocates feared that "equal" would mean "identical," and that "slight and inconsequential" differences might be used to justify disparate wages. Few state equal pay laws applied only to identical jobs, and General Order 16, promulgated by the War Labor Board in 1942, spoke of "comparable quality and quantity of work" in authorizing equal wages for women workers. Supporters argued that formal job analysis and rating procedures, carried on in cooperation with labor and management, would establish "comparability" if necessary. This battle went to the conservatives, however: Republicans heavily supported St. George's amendment to change the wording, and it passed 138 to 104.[22]

During the House debate on the measure, several representatives offered additional amendments. Republican representative Charles Goodell (New York) moved to eliminate the provision prohibiting compliance through a lowering of wage rates, citing the "panic" of retailers, and the amendment passed 132 to 116. An amendment to add the words or race to the bill everywhere that sex appeared, offered by Charles S. Joelson (D-N.J.), was disallowed on a point of order, raised by Edith Green, as not being "germane." At the close of the debate the House passed the bill by voice vote. No one had spoken on the floor against it.[23]

House approval surprised and alarmed business groups. Unaware of the new impetus behind the bill, they had assumed it


would meet the same fate it had before. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, realizing that it had been remiss in failing to take concerted action against the bill in the House, hastily organized a campaign to bottle up the bill in the Senate committee. "Nobody really was taking the bill very seriously, but suddenly it has become a reality," a chamber spokesman told the Wall Street Journal . The Journal attributed the bill's success to administration efforts and quoted a Senate Democrat as saying, "The Kennedy administration really wants this. They can build this up as a staggering social achievement."[24]

As part of its eleventh-hour lobbying effort, the chamber devoted an issue of its bulletin to equal pay, assuring business leaders that their fear of equal pay legislation did not mean they were prejudiced. The chamber asserted that there were in fact many arguments against "coercive" federal power: for one, pay differentials often resulted from the "added costs" of employing women, caused by their supposedly higher rates of absenteeism and turnover and by state laws requiring special benefits such as rest periods. Federal legislation to compel equal pay would undoubtedly create more problems than it would solve, the chamber insisted. That the misbegotten bill had gotten as far as it did the chamber attributed to "Mrs. Peterson's twelve-hour day."[25]

In their attempt to stall action in the Senate, business groups confronted the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Pat McNamara, and demanded hearings. McNamara refused. The chamber finally found an ally in the ranking minority member of the Senate Labor and Public Works Committee, Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), who succeeded in blocking committee approval. When McNamara finally agreed to amend the bill to permit employers to reflect "added costs" in wage differentials, Goldwater lent his support. Because it was too late to win committee endorsement, in early October McNamara offered the bill as a rider to a State Department construction bill already before the Senate, and it passed.[26]

Although the equal pay bill had for the first time won approval in both houses of Congress, McNamara's strategy ultimately failed. Because the Senate bill differed from the House bill, the legislation had to go to a conference committee. But the Senate


action had created parliamentary problems: the bill to which McNamara appended the equal pay measure had been reported out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whereas the House Education and Labor Committee had handled equal pay. With only nine days between the Senate vote and adjournment, committee jurisdiction could not be resolved and the bill died. The belated opposition of the business community, by stalling the bill in the Senate Committee for so long, resulted once more in the bill's demise. But this time the new backers of the bill were not so easily undone.[27]

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6 The Equal Pay Act of 1963: Compromise and Victory
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