A House hearing on comparable worth yesterday erupted into name-calling between Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio) and the staff director and chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Staff director Linda Chavez called comparable worth -- the concept of paying women the same as men for jobs of comparable worth to society -- "a scheme for redistributing the wealth in this country."
Chairman Clarence M. Pendleton Jr. said that comparable-worth proposals amount to "reparations for middle-class white women."
He stood by his earlier remarks that the idea amounts to "Looney Tunes" that would skew the free-market system.
Oakar contended that comparable worth is a matter of "fairness" and that, in years past, supporters of "slavery, child labor and those who didn't want women to be given loans or credit by banks" had made the same arguments as Pendleton.
She said that comparable worth is particularly important to low-income black and Hispanic women, whom she called the lowest-paid workers in the nation.
Pendleton is black and Chavez is Hispanic.
Pendleton responded that low-income black and Hispanic women would lose jobs if comparable worth became law because it would increase the cost of unskilled labor and prompt employers to adopt automation or use skilled workers.
Chavez told Oakar that Japanese-Americans are the highest wage-earners as an ethnic group, and asked her if everyone should be paid what they are paid.
"What you are really talking about is a scheme for redistributing the wealth in this country," Chavez said.
"Looney Tunes, socialism without a plan," said Oakar, quoting Pendleton. "You know those are diversionary tactics designed to get us away from the substance and one word -- two syllables -- that is, fairness."
"If you can determine fairness you ought to be canonized," Chavez said.
The hearing before the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee's subcommittee on compensation and employe benefits opened with Oakar introducing Pendleton as the man who has "tarnished" the Civil Rights Commission
She said that the commission has "ceased to be a champion of civil rights," and that, "through his behavior and intemperate remarks, such as characterizing pay equity as 'Looney Tunes,' Mr. Pendleton has demeaned and trivialized basic rights affecting millions of people."
Pendleton replied that he plans to "stand by his comments and I see no reason to change them."
Chavez added that making comparable worth a law would invite "social and economic disaster."
Chavez said that Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine A. Ferraro was wrong when she said during last year's campaign that women earn 59 cents for every dollar men make doing the same kind of work.
Women typically work fewer hours, Chavez said, and are more likely to work part time for a portion of the year.
In addition, she said, most women continue to seek "traditionally female positions" " 'Looney Tunes, socialism without a plan.' You know those are diversionary tactics designed to get us away from the substance and one word -- two syllables -- that is, fairness." -- Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio) that pay less, instead of seeking jobs traditionally held by men and which have higher salaries.
At the mention of Ferraro's name, Oakar interjected that the former candidate was "a fabulous woman," and said she was concerned that Ferraro "make sure she was paid as much as the male performers" for her Diet Pepsi commerical.
Oakar later asked Pendleton if he was not representing the administration by opposing comparable worth, and questioned him about being on the board of a bank that gave a loan to Attorney General William French Smith.
"I have some feelings about the racism in that question," Pendleton replied. "The question implies that I cannot think for myself and I am put here to do somebody else's work. I have differences with the administration . . . but am ideologically compatible."