Business and Politics: Equal pay for equal work
Story by Chris Graham
You’ve probably never heard the name Lilly Ledbetter, so you might think it unusual that Michelle Obama would go out of her way to talk about how “amazing” the retired grandmother is.
“I know that there are many people here who didn’t know her story, didn’t understand the origins of this. But the fact that she has been fighting beyond what has been beneficial to her is just a testament not only to her fortitude, to her faith, to her sacrifice, but to the cause that she is fighting for, to ensure that the women of this country are paid fairly for the work that they do,” Obama said of Ledbetter, who fought the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. all the way to the United States Supreme Court over a nearly 20-year period in which she was not paid the same as male coworkers who were doing the exact same job that she was, and, well you might be surprised to learn how that story ended up.
“My story could be anyone’s story. It could be yours. What happened to me shows what happens when America’s commitment to fairness and equality is betrayed,” Ledbetter said on Wednesday at a political rally in Charlottesville headlined by Michelle Obama and Jill Biden.
Ledbetter was a supervisor at the Goodyear plant in Gadsden, Ala., from 1979 to 1998. “I kept up with every one of my male coworkers,” she said matter of factly as she described her nearly 20 years on the production line. The salaries of her coworkers “were a big secret,” she said, but toward the end of her term of service at the plant, she began to suspect that she hadn’t been paid as much as her male coworkers. “Then I got an anonymous note in my mailbox that confirmed that I was right. Despite praising me for my work, Goodyear gave me smaller raises than my coworkers over and over,” Ledbetter said.
The discrepancy amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost wages, Ledbetter said, “money that I could have used to send my kids to college. It’s money that really would have made a difference for my family. And it would have helped with my retirement, which in these tough times is a constant worry,” Ledbetter said.
Notice how she says “would have helped.” Ledbetter won her case at the district-court level, but an appellate court reversed, saying essentially that because she had raised her contention about the pay discrepancies until the period of time after they began that she did not have standing to raise a legal challenge. The Supreme Court, in a controversial 2007 decision, upheld that ruling.
Legislation making its way through Congress named for Ledbetter to close that loophole in federal law stalled when Senate Republicans blocked the measure on a procedural vote. John McCain was not present for that vote, but he said later on the campaign trail that he would have voted against it because the legisation, he said, “opens us up to lawsuits for all kinds of problems,” and he later said of the bill at a campaign stop in Eastern Kentucky that what women need more than legislation is “education and training.”
“Let me tell you, I’ve got plenty of training,” Ledbetter said Wednesday. “What I don’t have is the right to fight for pay that I deserve. And Sen. McCain and his running mate would refuse to give it to me or to you,” Ledbetter said.
Barack Obama and Joe Biden both voted in favor of the legislation when it first came up for a vote in the Senate earlier this year.
Ledbetter said she is not giving up her battle for equal pay for equal work for women.
“One of the reasons that I’ve been so dedicated to what I’ve been doing, and my case is over, and I will never get a dime from any source for it, my case is gone, but what I believe so strongly is trying to change a wrong that was done to me to help protect you out there today,” Ledbetter said.