Minimum Wage Stability Affects Shirt and Nightwear Industry Pay

Monthly Labor Review, March 1986 | Go to article overview

Minimum Wage Stability Affects Shirt and Nightwear Industry Pay


Minimum wage stability affects shirt and nightwear industry pay

Absence of change in the Federal minimum wage during the May 1981-84 survey period helps to explain the relatively modest wage gains of production and related workers in the men's and boy's shirts and nightwear manufacturing industry. Straight-time earnings averaged $4.68 an hour in May 1984, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics survey.1 This was 11 percent above the $4.23 recorded in a similar survey conducted in May 1981--an increase averaging 3.4 percent a year.2 By comparison, wages and salaries in all nondurable goods manufacturing as reported by the Bureau's Employment Cost Index rose 17.1 percent, or 5.4 percent a year, during the 3 years ending in the second quarter of 1984.

In establishments employing about half of the industry's production workers in May 1984, pay was linked to the minimum wage by a policy of adjusting wage rates for all jobs to reflect changes in the statutory minimum. (See table 1.)

A more moderate rate of inflation between May 1981 and May 1984 also helps to explain the shirt industry's pace of wage increases. The Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) rose 13.5 percent, or 4.3 percent a year, at a time when one-fifth of the shirt workers were under collective bargaining agreements providing for cost-of-living wage adjustments.

Workers in the Southeast, who accounted for seventenths of the production work force, averaged $4.62 an hour in May 1984. Among the other five regions studied separately,3 average hourly earnings were highest in New England ($5.43) and lowest in the Southwest ($4.17).

Hourly earnings of more than 64,000 workers covered by the study ranged from the minimum wage of $3.35 to $9 and over. The middle 50 percent of the workers earned between $3.68 and $5.42 an hour. About 14 percent of the workers earned within 5 cents of the Federal minimum wage, down from 22 percent in 1981.

Among the 23 occupational classifications selected to represent the shirtmaking process, average hourly earnings ranged from $7.49 for sewing-machine adjusters to $4.03 for thread trimmers. Machine cutters ($6.18) and markers ($5.57) were the only other jobs studied separately with hourly averages over $5.50. Sewing-machine operators, by far the largest occupational group studied, with nearly 37,000 workers, averaged $4.59 an hour. Averages for the other jobs with more than 2,000 workers were $4.66 for combination final inspectors and thread trimmers, $4.62 for garment folders, and $4.48 for finish pressers.

Occupational pay levels varied widely by region. While pay levels typically exceeded the national averages by 15 to 25 percent in New England and by 5 to 15 percent in the Border States and Middle Atlantic States, occupational averages in the Southeast and Pacific generally fell slightly below the national levels, and those in the Southwest were usually 10 to 20 percent below. Regional pay patterns, however, were not consistent among individual jobs. For example, shipping clerks in the Border States averaged 48 percent more than those in the Southwest, but clicker-machine operators (who cut or stamp small pieces of various shapes from material or cardboard) in the latter region averaged 9 percent more than those in the Border States.

Occupational pay levels were generally higher in metropolitan than in nonmetropolitan areas, in plants with at least 250 employees than in smaller establishments, in union plants than in nonunion plants, and in establishments primarily making dress shirts than in those principally making sport shirts.

Extensive use of incentive pay plans, notably piece rate systems, contributed to wide ranges of rates within an occupation and area. Incentive earnings vary according to work experience, effort, work flow, and other factors which the worker may or may not control. …

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