Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lilly Ledbetter's fight for equality is enshrined in law.

This is why it is so good to have this guy in the White House:

Lilly Ledbetter is about half Barack Obama's height, but she makes up in determination what she lacks in stature. This was clear when the president stooped to embrace her yesterday after signing his first bill into law, a landmark piece of equal pay legislation which has been named after her.

Now 70 and from rural Alabama, Ms Ledbetter is a former employee at a Goodyear tyre plant, where she was a supervisor. For nearly two decades, from 1979 until she retired in 1998, Ms Ledbetter was one of the few women area managers. At first, her pay was in line with men in the same job. Then, she discovered, it started to slip.

"I just could not believe that they would separate the female pay so far down the line from my male peers," she said at the time. "I was shocked when my attorneys accumulated all the information, and I saw how low [my pay] was."

After discovering the pay difference, she filed a lawsuit and a jury found her to be the victim of discrimination. The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which ruled against her in 2007, reversing what many saw as years of precedent on equal pay. The Supreme Court judges decided that she took her action too late to collect damages, ruling that discrimination claims had to be filed within 180 days of the first offence.

Ms Ledbetter became a cause celebre in the campaign for equal pay and Congress, now dominated by Democrats, this week approved a law relaxing the deadlines for filing such suits thus making it easier for women to challenge employers they suspect are in breach of equal pay laws.

Obama has made sure that what happened to Ledbetter can, in future, be challenged:
It is fitting that with the very first bill I sign - the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act - we are upholding one of this nation's first principles: that we are all created equal and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness. So in signing this bill today, I intend to send a clear message: That making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone. That there are no second class citizens in our workplaces, and that it's not just unfair and illegal - but bad for business - to pay someone less because of their gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion or disability. And that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory, or footnote in a casebook - it's about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives: their ability to make a living and care for their families and achieve their goals.
The fact that both Obama and Clinton supported this bill during their election battle, and that McCain did not see it as necessary, says all that needs to be said about the differences between both political parties.

Only with a Democrat in the White House would such an historic wrong ever have been corrected. The Republicans would always favour protecting the employer over the employed. That's simply what they have always done.

But Obama has done what is right and, in doing so, has brought up the memory of his dead grandmother and the future of his two daughters:
And today, I sign this bill not just in her honor, but in honor of those who came before her. Women like my grandmother who worked in a bank all her life, and even after she hit that glass ceiling, kept getting up and giving her best every day, without complaint, because she wanted something better for me and my sister.

And I sign this bill for my daughters, and all those who will come after us, because I want them to grow up in a nation that values their contributions, where there are no limits to their dreams and they have opportunities their mothers and grandmothers never could have imagined.
As I say, only with a Democrat in the White House would we ever see such a thing.

Click title for full article.


Steel Phoenix said...

This is such an odd issue. It exists at a seam between ideology and reality.

I see this as a rich people problem. At least in the U.S., I don't see this happening much down at the local manufacturing plant. people are equally underpaid for equal toil. If you don't have at least six digits in your salary, you are unlikely to run into this. Where this is more of an epidemic is at the career level.

Part of hiring someone for a long term career position is investing money in training them with the understanding that they will be with you for the long haul. In simple economic terms this works because the combination of money and time invested in skillset makes them unlikely to find better paying employment elsewhere.

The problem arises in hormones. A certain percentage (lets say 10% for arguments sake. The actual number changes a lot based on situation) of women will find themselves overcome by the desire to have children, and then to stay home with them in order to raise them right. As a business it would then make more financial sense to avoid hiring women, so as to reduce your chance of losing your investment by 10%. The government frowns upon this, so employers have responded by taking the risk out of the salary. What we end up with is the difficult situation of employers having to tell a man, "sorry, we know you are the best choice for us, but we are forced to hire a woman for this position".

I'm not advocating a position here, since I can't stomach the idea of paying women less under the assumption that they will leave when they likely will not, but I am tired of this being addressed as a sexist issue where men are doing something wrong. I don't see this as an issue where women as a whole are being wronged, but one where men and women who choose career over child rearing are paying for those who don't. It is a simple clash of ideology and reality, and likely doesn't have a right answer. I think all the legislating, litigating, and proselytizing are a waste of everyone's time.

Kel said...

SP, Thank you for the line, "People are equally underpaid for equal toil". That is simply perfect.

I know what you mean about this being a difficult issue - and I understand the logic that training someone costs money and that an employer can somehow factor the 10% possible loss into wages - however, I do think that logic has a slight flaw.

After all, unless women continue to have children then the species will die out and they tend to have these children with men.

So it does strike me as somewhat unfair to financially punish them for doing what the entire species needs them to do. And for doing something that a man played a large role in bringing about!

Steel Phoenix said...

I can agree with that, but is it the job of government to intercede in every little detail of society? Should we make sure the obese are a proportionally represented among flight attendants? Quota how many white people need to be on a basketball team or how many gay people work at Arby's? Where does it end? These things cost money and man hours. Are they constructive enough to warrant it? At some point the weight of it all is oppressive in a way that hurts those very same people. I know; I live in northern California, one of the most liberal over regulated places in the States. We have braille on our drive through ATMs. One of the reasons our state is feeling the economy more than the rest is because we have so much more dead weight to carry in regulations and regulators. If you have ever been in debt, you know how much harder it is to pay off than spend, because it comes not out of your wages, but out of your profits. These programs are the same.

Kel said...

We have braille on our drive through ATMs.

That made me laugh out loud. Who is that for? I mean I take it the blind don't drive in California.

And I take your point about excessive regulation, but all this is stating is that if a woman does the same job as a man she should get paid the same. I think that's simply a fairness issue.

Steel Phoenix said...

I'm hoping that the drive through ATM just uses some of the same parts as the regular ones. What really gets me is the little hanging sign above one of the checkers at the supermarket with a symbol of a blind person on it. Are they supposed to see that and know it is their line? I've been planning on taking a picture to put up somewhere; I'll let you know if I do.

I notice that especially where gay rights are concerned here in Cali, pro and anti groups post boycott lists of businesses that oppose their views. I would be interested to see if such tactics would work for equal pay issues. If a business found it lost 15% of its custom by underpaying women by 10%, they would rethink their priorities. I think of government intervention as being the last resort, rather than the first.

Kel said...

What really gets me is the little hanging sign above one of the checkers at the supermarket with a symbol of a blind person on it. Are they supposed to see that and know it is their line?

It's hysterical. Billy Connolly, a British comedian, once noticed a road sign which read, "To the Braille School" and wondered who that was for.

And I take your point regarding boycotts, it would be interesting to see if businesses continued the practice if their products were highlighted in this way.