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Comparable Worth Concept

October 01, 1985

This is in response to the article by Councilwoman Joy Picus (Editorial Pages, Sept. 18), "Comparable Worth Concept Will Prevail."

As a major employer organization with 3,000 member companies, we applaud the efforts of Councilwoman Picus to achieve a fair and equitable pay adjustment for employees in traditionally female occupations. But I question the logic and premise of her article on comparable worth and wonder whether she fully understands what is involved in meeting the payroll in an increasingly competitive market.

First, comparable worth supporters would have you believe that the sole determinant of the wage gap between men and women is sex discrimination, and this just isn't so. This specious argument ignores the fundamental roles of wages and prices in the economy and fails to recognize perfectly valid factors, such as experience, performance, productivity and length of service in determining pay differentials.

More significantly, this myopic argument is simplistic because it fails to recognize the basic principle of supply and demand in the market. And let us not forget one other salient factor--for social and cultural reasons, worldwide tradition often dictates higher pay for some jobs other than others--despite skill levels and job requirements.

Comparable worth proponents also ignore the fact that this nation addressed itself to "equal pay for equal work" in the 1960s when Congress enforced two laws to eliminate pay discrimination against women and minorities for equal jobs. The 1963 Equal Pay Act prohibits sex-based discrimination "for equal jobs, the performance of which requires equal skill, effort and responsibility and which are performed under similar working conditions," and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, outlaws compensation discrimination based on "race, creed, sex or national origin."

"Equal pay for comparable work" is not addressed by any law because it raises difficult questions about how such a requirement could be enforced. In fact, no one is even sure how to define comparable jobs. Are they simply jobs not strictly equal yet basically similar? Or are they all jobs of equal value, or comparable worth to the employer, regardless of job similarity?

In any event, it is foolish to assume that some commission of bureaucrats established by a state legislature or city council can make an objective and valid assessment of your job and how it compares to others. And if you can equate the current economic system with slavery, maybe you don't understand slavery or appreciate our current economic system.

"Comparable worth" legislation is wrong. It is wrong because it would create an imperfect system to establish artificial job values. It is wrong because it would price us out of the world market. And it is wrong because we will pay for it with higher prices to cover increased labor costs and increased taxes to cover the cost of another wage stabilization bureaucracy.

The challenge that employers and lawmakers must face today is not how to perpetuate women in traditional female occupations--with conceptual comparable worth standards--but how to break down traditional job categories and make more career opportunities available to women.


Los Angeles

Butler is president of the Merchant and Manufacturers Assn.

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