YouTube video

Act 1: President Barack Obama signed an equal pay bill into law,
declaring that it’s a family issue, not just a women’s issue. The president
picked the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act for the first piece of legislation to
sign as president.

He appeared before a packed East Room audience for a ceremony, and
Ledbetter stood at his side.

Story Transcript

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Ushering the Lilly Ledbetter Act

SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome back to Part 3 with Katherine Spillar. She is the executive editor of Ms. Magazine, and she’s also the executive vice president of Feminist Majority. Thank you for joining us again.


PERIES: So let’s talk about the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which is in Senate at the moment. This is a very concrete issue with which we can measure the Obama administration by. And so where is it at?

SPILLAR: Right now the bill is sitting in the Senate, getting ready for debate on the floor. It passed the House by significant margins very early.

PERIES: Tell us what it is first.

SPILLAR: The Lilly Ledbetter Act is named after the woman who lost her case before the United States Supreme Court. Lilly Ledbetter had been a longtime, over-two-decades employee of Goodyear Tire, and found out, as she always suspected, that she was paid less than her male counterparts doing the same work, but wasn’t able to actually find out what the pay differential was until she got ready to retire. She sued for sex discrimination, won the case, no question, at the lower court levels, that she’d been discriminated against, and got a big financial award. Took it to the United States Supreme Court. There the court overturned the case and said that she should have sued within 120 days of first being discriminated against, the first time a paycheck was less than what she should have been paid because of sex discrimination. Well, the problem is is that most companies have a policy that they don’t allow you to talk about your salary. They don’t publish salaries. So there’s really no way to find out. And so she lost the case, ultimately. And the bill that is pending right now in the United States Senate is to restore the law to where it used to be. It used to be that every time you got another paycheck where you were being paid less because of sex discrimination or race discrimination that the clock started all over again. So she would have had the 120 days from the last time she got the paycheck. That’s what used to be the case before this Supreme Court gutted the law, and this is the effort to restore it. It will go to a debate on the floor. We expect strong opposition from the Republicans and by the Chamber of Commerce and the manufacturers’ association. They have been fighting this tooth and nail. But we believe that we will prevail and that the new president will have a chance to sign this law. But we’re going to look to President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to help make sure that the Senate acts on this quickly and without crippling amendment.

PERIES: Is this a issue that you have put in front of Obama and his advisers during the campaign? And have you gotten some promises this is something that they would support?

SPILLAR: Yes. In fact, both Obama and Biden have pledged to support the Lilly Ledbetter Act, and the Fair Pay Act, which is making its way through in conjunction. But, of course, we’re fighting very strong opposition, you know, on both of those measures that would help strengthen the laws on sex discrimination and pay. So we’re going to need, I think, some help from the White House.

PERIES: How will you work with the administration? Where are you actually going to make your interventions?

SPILLAR: Well, in some of the transition meetings the issue of the Lilly Ledbetter Act has already come up, and, in fact, there’s a whole coalition of women’s rights groups working very closely with the transition team to make sure that this bill is acted on quickly and, of course, that President Obama will sign it. But now we’ll be working with Department of Labor and Department of Justice new appointees also as we move forward. We hope that it will happen, though, very quickly. The House passed it within the first week of being in its new session. The Senate will be debating. We hope there will be no crippling amendments. We hope that the supporters of equal pay and no sex discrimination will stand firm in the Senate and not allow crippling amendments, and that we’ll see this passed and signed into law in this first few days.

PERIES: Great. We are facing economic crisis, and during economic crisis, women are perhaps the most affected in terms of job loss, in terms of getting jobs. You know, they’re the first to go, usually. What is the Feminist Majority doing in terms of your advocacy in this area?

SPILLAR: Already there’s been meetings with key members of Congress. Women’s groups have now met with Senator Harry Reid, who’s the majority leader of the Senate, and with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. We are starting meetings with the Women’s Caucus in the House—very important point-of-entry on women’s rights issues and economic issues in Congress. These are the women who will carry much of the legislation and watchdog with us how these economic stimulus packages are put together and the laws to make sure that there’s living wages. In fact, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney has been named as chair of the Joint Economic Committee. This is a very powerful committee. All of the economic stimulus packages will be coming before that committee. A very strong feminist, Congresswoman Maloney. So we’re in close contact with congressional members, with the larger women’s rights community is already actively involved in these conversations, and we have been since last fall, on what needs to be done to make sure that women are not left out of the picture when it comes to thinking about what we need to do to get the economy back on track. Women are nearly half the workforce. Women are still only paid an average of 77 cents on the dollar. And so we’ve got to make sure that as we’re looking at how the country is going to get back on track that we don’t forget the critical role that women play in this economy.

PERIES: What about the labor unions and the nurses associations? Are you working with them?

SPILLAR: Oh, very closely. In fact, the nurses associations had a long history of being actively involved in women’s coalitions, and key pieces of the labor movement. So we’re making sure that women are everywhere advocating on these issues. In fact, it’s an important part of this new administration. There are many women that are key in the administration’s economic team. This is unprecedented. So we’re starting the relationships with many of them, as well as the Department of Labor, headed by a woman. So these are all critical points of entry. We’ve got to cover every base, and we intend to.

PERIES: Kathy, thank you for joining us. I have a feeling this is going to be an ongoing discussion for the next few years about Barack Obama and his performance on feminist issues. So let’s continue this another time, and thank you for joining us. And thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Katherine Spillar is the Executive Director and co-founder of Feminist Majority, and the Executive Editor of Ms. Magazine.