Friday, October 17, 2008

Equal Pay for Equal Work--The American Worker's Eternal Struggle

This is another guest blog from my dear friend, marilyn|Jean. marilyn|Jean: occasional blogger. constant activist. provocative party planner.

Lily Ledbetter doesn't like peanuts. Especially when they're in her paycheck. For almost twenty years, Lily worked for the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company in Alabama when one day she discovered that she was being paid less - way less - than her male peers and subordinates.

Lily fought with her employers about her wage discrimination, taking her case all the way to the Supreme Court. Ultimately, the court ruled against her saying that in wage discrimination cases, an employee has a window of 180 days from the first incident of pay discrimination to take action against his/her employer. The legal jibber jabber says:

The equal pay for equal work discrimination charging period is triggered when a discrete unlawful practice takes place. A new violation does not occur, and a new charging period does not commence, upon the occurrence of subsequent non-discriminatory acts that entail adverse effects resulting from the past discrimination.

For Lily, 180 days had long gone by. Her lawyers, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dissent, argued was that each paycheck was an incident of pay discrimination and the 180 window makes it impossible for employees to seek retribution because pay discrimination isn't easily uncovered or blatant as an incident such as termination. In a place like Goodyear (and many other companies), discussions about salaries are prohibited among employees. If it wasn't for an anonymous note left in her mailbox with the names and pay levels of her male coworkers scribbled on it, Lily would have never known how poorly she was being treated.

That scrap of paper changed her life.

In response to the court ruling that favored businesses over people, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The act doesn't rewrite law books, it simply reinforces existing anti-discrimination laws and allows an employee to pursue action against an discriminating employer within 180 of discovery, or each paycheck, not the first incident, which can be hard to pinpoint. The legislation was supported by a vast cross-section of national and local organizations such as National Organization for Women, the American Association of University Women, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Council of Jewish Women.

The Senate failed to pass it.

Now Lily is on the move all over the country championing equal pay for equal work. She has become the face of wage discrimination talking to anyone who will listen about how important economic justice is. Lily may not work for Goodyear anymore, but the effects of her discrimination still haunts her. The discriminatory wages paid to her by Goodyear have carried over into her pension funds, which are based on her wages as an employee. The less you earn while you work, the less you have when you retire.

Take note American Worker. A McCain-Palin administration is in lockstep with the powers-that-be who put profits before people. Governor Palin thinks that sexism doesn't exist. Her reality is not Lily's reality.

Senator McCain thinks that the "fundamentals of our economy are strong". It's hard to hear these words as our economic infrastructure is crumbling down around us. His idea of middle class is not the American Worker's reality.

What people like John McCain and Sarah Palin don't realize is that the beauty of the American free market system is rooted in the individual, not the company. We drive and shape the economy. When the laws that govern us are eroded to forgo equity and values in order to achieve wider margins and fatter wallets for a privileged few, workers are limited in our capacity to participate wholly and fully in society.

After hearing Lily's story you may never want to buy another Goodyear tire ever again. But she's beyond tires. Her call to action is this: don't take the struggle for wage equity lying down. Economic justice means women (and men) will earn the wages they deserve for the work that they do. They will be able to afford a decent living, while providing for their families. Families with sustainable incomes and quality jobs can afford health care, have money to save and invest in a home. These are the cornerstones of community and economy.

For Lily and thousands of women, fair pay isn't a women's issue, it's a basic human right. Regarding the Fair Pay Act that bears her name she says, "I can help support and get this bill passed for others, for all discrimination protection, it'll help our daughters, our granddaughters in the future."

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

Do you know if I can file a wage discrimination case on the basis of beauty? All the lower workers in my office are female. All the higher paid employees are male. Among the women, there is one that has been working here for 10 years, she lives out of state, does absolutely nothing all day and is paid $90,000/year. I live in the same city as the office, ride a bus to work every day where I put in 40 hours/week as I have for the past 5 years, and I am paid $20,000/year.

Do you think a sexual harrassment suit is in order in this case? My boss is clearly implying (to me at least) that people that have sex with him are paid better than everyone else. Either that or people that are lazy but beautiful are paid while while those of us who are productive but ugly aren't monetarily rewarded. There should be some way of filing a complaint against him but the EEOC website has nothing about beauty discrimination.


blogger templates | Make Money Online