Some labor union activists, even women, did not support the Equal Pay Act of 1963. They opposed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) as well, worried that these new laws would destroy the protective labor laws for which previous generations of feminists had fought.
However, some feminist union leaders did support the Equal Pay Act. The fight for equality and a gender-blind workplace was led by activists such as Caroline Davis, who later became one of the first officers of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
Why Would Workers Oppose Equality?
Laws enacted to protect women from exploitation were seen differently by later generations, who often had safer workplaces and a better union-organized starting point. Caroline Davis said most arguments in favor of “protective” legislation were actually a smoke screen that discriminated against women and benefited employers. She accused management of resorting to divisive tactics, turning male workers against female workers.
For example, many states had limits on how many hours women could work, which meant men could earn more from overtime. Those who opposed equality legislation said repealing such protective laws would force women to work limitless hours. But rather than protecting women from overtime, why not make overtime voluntary for everyone?
Testifying in Favor of Equal Pay
As head of the United Auto Workers (UAW) Women’s Department, Caroline Davis testified before Congress in favor of the Equal Pay Act. In her testimony, she called unequal pay “immoral” and rebutted the political arguments against equal pay with several key points.
- In response to the argument that women live longer than men and cost more in pensions, Caroline Davis said women actually pay more into pension funds than they use.
- She also noted that not a single employer with whom the UAW bargained had the “intellectual pettiness to suggest that longevity is a justification for unequal pay.”
- In response to the charge that women are more often absent or tardy, costing employers money, Caroline Davis said the same arguments had historically been used against immigrant workers and African-Americans, and by colonial oppressors, to justify unequal pay, although the arguments had no merit.
- She acknowledged that employers could obviously weigh attendance as a factor in employee evaluation and pay rate, but suggested they do so equally for men and women.
- Caroline Davis referred to the arguments against equal pay as “testimonial jabberwocky,” because they were meaningless and were only used to cover up employers’ greed.