Fair Act

Today, President Obama signed his first bill into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a much needed move towards ensuring equal pay for all. And in his own words, “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.”

He explains that it is not only about Ms. Ledbetter.

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.

The president may as well have been talking about an all inclusive Employment Non-Discriminatory Act and telling the story of lesbians, gay, bisexuals and transgendered individuals who make less than straight coworkers, live in fear of losing their livelihoods because of who they are, and whose spouses and children suffer because of deep seated ignorance and bigotry.

True to his community organizing roots, Mr. Obama stresses the importance of civic and political participation.

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.

Indeed we should follow Lilly Ledbetter’s example and continue to fight for our civil rights. We should echo the president’s words back again and again and again until he, our elected officials, and America as a nation live up to the history and ideals to which he eloquently rallies all. Until all Americans, people of color, women and LGBT are assured their rightful place in society.

… 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.

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