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Sonia Pressman Fuentes

Your Money's Worth

Equal Pay For Women Likely To Win Approval

by Sylvia Porter

This article appeared in the Appleton, WI, Post-Crescent, May 28, 1963, page A-12 Col. 6.

"No one would contend that women can perform all jobs as well as men any more than men can perform all jobs as well as women. Even the American Civil Liberties Union is aware of the distinctions between the sexes and joins the French in saying 'Vive la difference.' But let's face it, gentlemen, that 'difference' isn't really the significant factor in the performance of most jobs. Except for the oldest profes- sion, it rarely comes into play until after working hours......"

This observation by Sonia Pressman of the ACLU is too delightful to remain buried in the files of a House Subcommittee on Labor - and it also is far more important to the employers and the working women of this nation than most of you suspect.


For the first time in 19 consecutive years of debate on legislation requiring equal pay for men and women doing the same type of work for the same company, the chances at last appear excellent that a national "equal pay" law will go on our books this summer.

Twin bills (H.R. 6060 and S. 1409) are moving smoothly through both houses. "We have a lot of bipartisan support this year and we think prospects are very good," says a Labor Department spokesman.

This is a significant development, and here, therefore, is the tale.

What's the purpose of the "equal pay" act and what would it provide ?

Both the House and Senate versions state the bill is "to prohibit discrimina- tion on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce." The legislation would provide that no em- ployer may discriminate in wage payments on the basis of sex for equal work, skill, effort, responsibility, working conditions ; that no employer may reduce wage rates of any employe to comply with the law (cut the pay of men to that of women) ; that the law is to become effective one year after its passage ; that it is to be enforced by the Dept. of Labor under the same system enforcing minimum wage laws.


Who would be covered by the bill ?

It would cover only women already protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act - affect only about 6 million of the 24 million women now working in the U.S. Not covered would be workers for laundries, hotels, restaurants, dry cleaning establish- ments, most nurses, many secretaries, many retail workers whose companies are not en- gaged in interstate commerce. Practically speaking, though, the law would complement equal pay laws existing today in 22 states, would spur establishment of equal pay in labor contracts and voluntary adherence by employers.

Who's pushing the bill this year and why ?

The most powerful support has come from the administration, women's groups, labor unions. The reason is that there is open, wide- spread, unjustifiable, archaic discrimination on pay scales strictly because of sex, and no one denies this. About one-third of employers in one survey admitted they had a double standard pay scale for male and female office workers. Another survey of bank tel- lers' salaries disclosed that women tellers with under five years of experience typically average $ 5 to $ 15 a week less than men in the same group - and in a bank a teller is a teller, regardless of sex. In life insurance company jobs, women's pay averages $ 8 to $ 20 a week less than men's. Women in this country represent one-third of our total labor force, earn only one-fifth of the wages. The discrimination against women doing identical work with men is indisputable.

Who's against the bill and why ?

Many businessmen are against the bill because they believe it will hike their pay costs, and they insist that the cost of hiring, training and keeping women workers is higher than the cost for men. No one, however, has any hard figures on how much pay costs would be raised. Significant is the fact that this year, most of those opposing the bill have concen- trated on watering down its provisions rather than condemning it outright. The versions mov- ing through Congress have been considerably watered down.

Would equal pay for women hurt the American economy ?

It could squeeze some individual companies, but, with women already earning more that $45 billion a year, any increase in their purchasing power would stimulate the economy. As for the threat by some businessmen that an equal pay law would dry up the job market for women, I'll go along with Asst. Sec. of Labor Esther Peterson :

"We are willing to take our chances."