Friday, June 29, 2012

Can two people really do the same job equally?

The Paycheck Fairness Act failed to advance in the U. S. Senate on June 5.  Proponents of the act said that it would allow equal pay for men and women doing the same work.  Opponents said the act just created more federal bureaucracy and more rules for businesses.

Most news reports declared Republicans defeated the legislation. That is incorrect. The vote taken was for or against:  On Cloture on the Motion to Proceed (Motion to Invoke Cloture on the Motion to Proceed to Consider S. 3220).  Fifty Democrats and two Independents voted "aye."  Forty six Republicans and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., voted "Nay."  Invoking cloture requires a three-fifths majority, or 60 votes.

Before the votes were cast, everyone on Capitol Hill knew the following:
  • All Democrats would vote "Aye"
  • Both Independents would vote "Aye"
  • All Republicans would vote "Nay"
  • Majority Leader Reid would first vote "Aye" and then change his vote to "Nay" as a procedural method to bring the vote up again if he so desires.

Yes, this was another episode of election year politics. Tune in next time to see if Mr. Smith goes to Washington to filibuster the Paycheck Fairness Act!

It has always been my observation that no two people actually do the same work. Thus, "equal pay for equal work" is a sophism — an intentional fallacy.

I took Typing I in high school. I was one of two boys in the class. As I struggled to type 50 words per minute using a manual typewriter, there were a dozen girls who were typing at 90 words per minute.

If my classmates and I had been paid by the job classification "Typist," I would have loved paycheck fairness. The girls would have screamed, no doubt. If we had been paid based on productivity, then I would have been the one screaming.

Forty years ago, there were numerous sewing plants scattered throughout Appalachia. The plants had two things in common. All of the seamstresses were women. All were paid by piecework. 

When I was in college, I interviewed seamstresses at a rural Virginia sewing plant for an economics study. What surprised me the most was that the women preferred piecework compensation to an hourly wage. Regardless of their individual outputs, they believed they earned much more by the piecework method. And it did not bother them at all that some women sewed faster and, thus, made more money. 

It's one thing to pay people a wage based on job classification. It's quite another to pay them based on individual production or quality of work. Wages based on job classification merely hides the fact that no two workers produce equally. 

Your local fast food restaurant hires many burger flippers. It goes without saying that the best burger flippers (male or female) are scheduled to work the lunch trade. Lesser flippers, like "Lefty" (so named because of his nose-picking habit), are relegated to the slow shifts. 

If all of the burger flippers are paid the same hourly rate based on job classification, then the best of the lot are penalized to pay for the Lefties of this world. 

When I was in high school, Miss Pearl Custer ran the office almost by herself. She had an electric typewriter, a nice calculator and the help of female students who would volunteer to work in her office during their free periods.

Miss Custer ran a tight ship; she was not known to make mistakes.

Miss Custer retired after I graduated. Later on, I asked Mr. Jim Bennett, the school's principal, what it was like trying to replace Miss Custer. His answer: "It took three people and a computer." (He did not elaborate as to their gender or pay.)

I should mention that my high school enrolled about 1,000 students.

I have never met two people who perform equally in a given task.  On the other hand, everyone that I have met does have a knack for doing something very well. 

Consider these lyrics from the 1946 song "Choo, Choo, Ch' Boogie":

    You take your morning paper from the top of the stack / And read the situation from the front to the back.
    The only job that's open needs a man with a knack. / So put it right back in the rack, Jack!

According to the news reports that I read, the Paycheck Fairness Act does not apply to the federal government.  Maybe it would be a good idea for the feds to do a five-year test drive of the Act.  Then we, the people who can't do anything right on our own, would know whether it works or not