Posted by: JanF | January 30, 2015

Six Years Ago: The 111th Congress Began The People’s Work

From the White House:


(Transcript below)

On January 29, 2009, President Obama signed his very first piece of legislation: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The law, named after a woman who discovered her employer was paying her less than men doing the same job, makes it easier for Mrs. Ledbetter and others like her to effectively challenge unequal pay.

Lilly Ledbetter took her pay discrimination complaint all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2007 that claims like hers had to be filed within 180 days of an employer’s decision to pay a worker less—even if the worker didn’t learn about the unfair pay until much later, as was the case for Mrs. Ledbetter.

To make sure that people can effectively challenge unequal pay, the law President Obama signed shortly after taking office amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 so that unfair pay complaints can be filed within 180 days of a discriminatory paycheck—and that 180 days resets after each paycheck is issued.

Since then, the Roberts Supreme Court has succeeded in undermining many other rights, including the right to vote and the right to fair elections – elections free of the corrupting influence of dark money. The difference was that in 2009, the president had partners in Congress who were willing to do the people’s work and fix the mistakes of the court. So much has changed, so much work that will not be done until we can elect a Congress that reflects the values of the majority of our people. That will not happen with the 114th Congress, dubbed “America’s New Congress ™” by the Republican majority – dubbed “America’s Nightmare Come True ™” by the majority of Americans.

We can fix this, we must fix this.

Between now and November 2016, tell everyone you know of the enormous power each and every citizen has: the power to choose our government. Talk it up, pump them up … so that when we all exercise that “most basic human right”, we can once again have a government creating laws like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act.

Remarks by the President on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act bill signing:

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.

It is also fitting that we are joined today by the woman after whom this bill is named – someone Michelle and I have had the privilege of getting to know for ourselves. Lilly Ledbetter didn’t set out to be a trailblazer or a household name. She was just a good hard worker who did her job – and did it well – for nearly two decades before discovering that for years, she was paid less than her male colleagues for the very same work. Over the course of her career, she lost more than $200,000 in salary, and even more in pension and Social Security benefits – losses she still feels today.

Now, Lilly could have accepted her lot and moved on. She could have decided that it wasn’t worth the hassle and harassment that would inevitably come with speaking up for what she deserved. But instead, she decided that there was a principle at stake, something worth fighting for. So she set out on a journey that would take more than ten years, take her all the way to the Supreme Court, and lead to this bill which will help others get the justice she was denied.

Because while this bill bears her name, Lilly knows this story isn’t just about her. It’s the story of women across this country still earning just 78 cents for every dollar men earn – women of color even less – which means that today, in the year 2009, countless women are still losing thousands of dollars in salary, income and retirement savings over the course of a lifetime.

But equal pay is by no means just a women’s issue – it’s a family issue. It’s about parents who find themselves with less money for tuition or child care; couples who wind up with less to retire on; households where, when one breadwinner is paid less than she deserves, that’s the difference between affording the mortgage – or not; between keeping the heat on, or paying the doctor’s bills – or not. And in this economy, when so many folks are already working harder for less and struggling to get by, the last thing they can afford is losing part of each month’s paycheck to simple discrimination.

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.

Ultimately, though, equal pay isn’t just an economic issue for millions of Americans and their families, it’s a question of who we are – and whether we’re truly living up to our fundamental ideals. Whether we’ll do our part, as generations before us, to ensure those words put to paper more than 200 years ago really mean something – to breathe new life into them with the more enlightened understandings of our time.

That is what Lilly Ledbetter challenged us to do. 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.

In the end, that’s why Lilly stayed the course. She knew it was too late for her – that this bill wouldn’t undo the years of injustice she faced or restore the earnings she was denied. But this grandmother from Alabama kept on fighting, because she was thinking about the next generation. It’s what we’ve always done in America – set our sights high for ourselves, but even higher for our children and grandchildren.

Now it’s up to us to continue this work. This bill is an important step – a simple fix to ensure fundamental fairness to American workers – and I want to thank this remarkable and bi-partisan group of legislators who worked so hard to get it passed. And this is only the beginning. I know that if we stay focused, as Lilly did – and keep standing for what’s right, as Lilly did – we will close that pay gap and ensure that our daughters have the same rights, the same chances, and the same freedom to pursue their dreams as our sons.

Thank you.

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