Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Victory for Decency

Following up on the earlier TftD, here's video of the signing ceremony of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Nice remarks by Obama and a good feeling in the room that comes right through the screen.

(alt. video link)

Video swiped from Kevin K. at Rumproast, who titles his post, "This is what a feminist looks like." Kevin also supplies a link to FDL for the full text of the President's remarks at FDL. Here's a part I liked:

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.

Since I am a political obsessive, I also could not help but note the turn of phrase later on, where Obama is saluting Ledbetter for her persistence:

In the end, that’s why Lilly stayed the course.

Take that, George W. Bush, and pass it along to your appointed cronies on the Supreme Court.


Adam L said...

I remember an inane NPR interview with my very own Congresshuman Carolyn Maloney from 2007 when the Supreme Court decision came down as if anybody not outraged that the Supreme Court had not made what to me was a rather subtle distinction of jurisprudence about whether a law applied to all "discriminatory" paychecks or just the hiring decision was some sort of misogynist creep.

Now, I don't have any ax to grind if there truly is a discriminatory situation for a complaint to be allowed to be filed in an ongoing fashion not immediately after the first check is issued, but I wonder to what extent discriminatory pay is in this day and age.

In her NPR interview Rep. Maloney claimed that the glass ceiling is still such that women get 70% of the pay for equal work (I remember b/c I wrote a blog post about it.) Which I just find hard to swallow; I don't know how you define equal work, but it just seems that women take very different career paths often that make apples to apples comparisons difficult and more importantly women in the workforce is such a normal concept now that if a company hiring all women could truly get exactly the same labor as all their competitors for 30% less it seems like they'd drive their competitors out of business quickly or that other companies would quit their discriminatory hiring practices. I know that not everything is a free market, but labor markets are pretty liquid.

So while this law seems all well and good I just wonder to what extent this remains a prevalent issue for women trying to have a career. I assume that since the law already existed in one form that there won't be a huge glut of new lawsuits to the effect is largely symbolic.

Brendan said...

I take your point about the 70% figure, although I'd like to believe that result was obtained after adjusting for years on the job and other factors.

I also take your point about the market forces, although I am less convinced that there is as much freedom here as one might think. One big source of friction comes from the unfortunate fact that our health care system is usually tied to the employer. It may be easy for the stars to go right to another job with equally good benefits; for the average worker, not so much. Add to that the problems we have with insurance companies refusing to cover preexisting conditions, and here are but two ways that someone can be effectively locked into a job.

In any case, I'm sure that sex discrimination is still a problem in the workplace. To give a non-monetary example, I'll observe that I've never worked in a place with a woman in some position of authority where there weren't at least a few people who felt no compunction at saying out loud that she had gotten there by (1) sleeping her way to the top, (2) by being an out-and-out bitch, or (3) as a token or beneficiary of affirmative action.

If I'm wrong in my assessment, and you're right, and it turns out that this new law won't lead to a rash of lawsuits, then fine. I'd be delighted. But I am also delighted to think that even if there are only a few women who might need the protection of this law, it is now there for them.

Adam L said...

Maybe there is just a generation gap on this issue and also the fact I work in academia; I work on a floor with 4 primary investigators, two are male, three are female including the one who was just hired, with the most assertive leader on the floor being a female (the person who has both formal and informal power... she's the head of our cooperative group between labs and she's also the person whose requests take top prioriy.) Furthermore, a level down the food chain at the level of M.D.'s and PhD's who have had fellowships on the floor, 4 of the last 5 have been women. And then of the "grunts" (I use that term loosely since a scientific lab is not nearly as hierarchical as a corporate workplace) there about three other men and me and four women.

I had tons of female professors... I honestly couldn't tell you if I had more men or women. My sister is a third year grad student and I have never heard her mention any sort of discrimination in academia (and she is much more economically independent of our parents than I am so she you know, needs her work to provide her health insurance.)

I guess academia is a bit of a weird industry since it's on the middle of the income scale but especially in biomedical research where you literally work in a hospital complex the health insurance is very good at all the different institutions (or at least at every institution where I know people which is a pretty wide cross section geographically).

In the vicarious situations I know of with women who work they either are in fields dominated by women (design, etc.) or are in fields where the bottom line is the bottom line (my female friend at JPMorgan Chase survived a round of layoffs because she was a better trader than the male who got fired.) I am not saying that these kinds of discrimination and certainly verbal abuse don't happen; when people don't get along they'll reach for any cudgel and the "you're only here because you're a ____" is a favored one for bigots.

But I guess my point is I know lots of women of the age that they just entered the work force and none of them have mentioned being sexually harassed either in the form of pressure to perform sex acts or simple verbal abuse, and from the ones who I'm close enough to know their salaries they almost always seem commensurate to their industry and not to their gender.

I admit it could be a function of my cohort of friends being well-educated Manhattanites and not like middle-class office workers in Little Rock, but at least in the environments in which I'm privy to women a) are often at least 50% of a given organization and sometimes more and b) in any case do not routinely face discrimination, and the 70% figure in my world sounds like a total anachronism.

Adam L said...

I work on a floor with 5 PIs, rather.

Brendan said...

I'm happy to hear about your workplace experiences. Sounds like progress has been made since the last time I worked in an office. And good for you for acknowledging that you might be in a slightly non-average situation.

But as I said, if it turns out this law doesn't need to be exercised that much, I'll be happy to be proven wrong.

ArtSparker said...

Re the turn of phrase: sounds like reclaiming the language for the real world heros.