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Lilly Ledbetter: Equal pay is a 'family issue'

by: COURTESY OF LILLY LEDBETTER - Lilly Ledbetter, a champion of equal pay for women, speaks at two events Thursday, April 24, and Friday, April 25, in Portland.When Lilly Ledbetter takes the stage in Portland Thursday and Friday, her message will be simple: equal pay isn’t just an issue for today’s working women, it’s an issue that will affect their earning power in the future.

“It follows women all their lives,” Ledbetter said last week from her Jacksonville, Ala., home. “Retirements are based on a woman’s life earnings. Not many women are truly paid equally.”

Ledbetter, 76, whose name graces the first law President Obama signed in January 2009, is a featured speaker Thursday afternoon at Portland State University’s Abigail Scott Duniway Speaker Series, and part of a panel on equal pay issues Friday evening at the American Association of University Women of Oregon and Washington Joint Convention in Portland.

Her PSU speech is part of the Duniway series program from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at Lincoln Hall, 1620 S.W. Park Ave. Tickets for the event are sold out.

On Friday, Ledbetter joins Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Portland Democrat, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and Washington state Sen. Karen Keiser on a town hall panel at 7:30 p.m. at the Embassy Suites Portland Airport, 7900 N.E. 82nd Ave.

Struggling families

Ledbetter has been talking about equal pay issues for more than seven years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against her wage claims in a legal fight with Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. The court’s May 2007 decision said Ledbetter had missed a 180-day deadline to sue for discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, even though she had been paid less than at least a dozen men in her department for the same work.

Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009 to loosen the timeliness requirements for the filing of a discrimination lawsuit. It was the first bill President Obama signed.

Since then, Ledbetter has crisscrossed the nation talking about equal pay to all kinds of groups. She doesn’t get tired of talking about it.

“I will never get tired of talking about equal pay because my family missed so much simply because I did not receive the pay I had earned,” Ledbetter said. “So many single mothers are struggling just to make ends meet. That difference in pay means you can pay your rent or mortgage, buy food or pay school fees or buy new shoes.”

A 2012 report by AAUW supported passage of the federal Paycheck Fairness Act.

A myth?

On April 8, President Obama signed an executive order requiring equal pay among federal contractors on the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act to battle gender-based pay inequities. On the same day, Senate Republicans blocked consideration of the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Several prominent Republicans have said the pay equity issue is a myth created by Democrats for political gain.

Before the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said the act could lead to job cuts, which would affect working women. “It’s just another Democratic idea that threatens to hurt the very people that it claims to help,” McConnell said.

Ledbetter disagrees.

“Men are on board for equal pay for equal work, because of their mothers, wives, daughters and sisters,” she said. “This is a family issue. Equal pay would boost the economy also, because women spend their money on their families.”