Obama, With Lilly Ledbetter At Hand, Ups The Call For Equal Pay

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President Obama, with Lilly Ledbetter, left. An Executive Order bans federal contractors from retaliating against employees. Obama vowed to enforce equal pay laws for women. Photo:  (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON EQUAL PAY FOR EQUAL WORKThe White House, East Room.

Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)  All right.  Well, thanks to my friend, Lilly Ledbetter, not only for that introduction but for fighting for a simple principle:  Equal pay for equal work.  It's not that complicated.  And, Lilly, I assure you, you remain the face of fair pay.  (Laughter.)  People don't want my mug on there.  (Laughter.)  They want your face. 

As Lilly mentioned, she did not set out to be a trailblazer. She was just somebody who was waking up every day, going to work, doing her job the best that she could.  And then one day, she finds out, after years, that she earned less than her male colleagues for doing the same job.  I want to make that point again.  (Laughter.)  Doing the same job.  Sometimes when you -- when we discuss this issue of fair pay, equal pay for equal work, and the pay gap between men and women, you’ll hear all sorts of excuses about, well, they’re child-bearing, and they’re choosing to do this, and they’re this and they’re that and the other.  She was doing the same job -- probably doing better.  (Laughter and applause.)  Same job.  Working just as hard, probably putting in more hours.  But she was getting systematically paid less.

And so she set out to make sure this country lived up to its founding, the idea that all of us are created equal.  And when the courts didn’t answer her call, Congress did.

The first time Lilly and I stood together in this room was my tenth day in office, and that's when we signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.  (Applause.)  First bill I signed into law.  And some of the leaders who helped make that happen are here today, including Leader Pelosi and Senator Mikulski and Congresswoman DeLauro.  (Applause.)  I want to thank all the members of Congress and all the state legislators who are here  and all the advocates who are here, because you all contributed to that effort.  And I want to give a special thanks to the members of the National Equal Pay Task Force, who’ve done outstanding work to make workplaces across America more fair.

We’re here because today is Equal Pay Day.  (Applause.)  Equal Pay Day.  And it's nice to have a day, but it's even better to have equal pay.  (Applause.)  And our job is not finished yet. Equal Pay Day means that a woman has to work about this far into 2014 to earn what a man earned in 2013.  Think about that.  A woman has got to work about three more months in order to get what a man got because she’s paid less.  That's not fair.  That’s like adding an extra six miles to a marathon.  (Laughter.)  It’s not right.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Ain’t right.

THE PRESIDENT:  Ain’t right.  (Laughter.)  It's not right and it ain’t right.  (Laughter.)

America should be a level playing field, a fair race for everybody -- a place where anybody who’s willing to work hard has a chance to get ahead.  And restoring that opportunity for every American -- men and women -- has to be a driving focus for our country.

Now, the good news is today our economy is growing; businesses have created almost 9 million new jobs over the past four years.   More than 7 million Americans have signed up for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.  (Applause.)

That’s a good thing, too.  I know it’s Equal Pay Day and not Obamacare Day -- (laughter) -- but I do want to point out that the Affordable Care Act guarantees free preventive care, like mammograms and contraceptive care, for tens of millions of women, and ends the days when you could be charged more just for being a woman when it comes to your health insurance.  (Applause.)  And that’s true for everybody.  (Applause.)  That’s just one more place where things were not fair.

We’ll talk about drycleaners next, right -- (laughter) -- because I know that -- I don’t know why it costs more for Michelle’s blouse than my shirt.  (Laughter.)

But we’ve got to make sure that America works for everybody. Anybody who is willing to work hard, they should be able to get ahead.  And we’ve got to build an economy that works for everybody, not just those at the top.  Restoring opportunity for all has to be our priority.  That’s what America is about.  It doesn’t matter where you started off, what you look like -- you work hard, you take responsibility, you make the effort, you should be able to get ahead. And we’ve got to fight for an opportunity agenda, which means more good jobs that pay good wages, and training Americans to make sure that they can fill those jobs, and guaranteeing every child a world-class education, and making sure the economy rewards hard work for every single American.

And part of that is fighting for fair pay for women -- because when women succeed, America succeeds.  (Applause.)  When women succeed, America succeeds.  It’s true.  I believe that.  (Applause.)  It’s true.  It’s true.  It's true. Now, here’s the challenge:  Today, the average full-time working woman earns just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns; for African American women, Latinas, it’s

even less.  And in 2014, that’s an embarrassment.  It is wrong.  And this is not just an issue of fairness.  It’s also a family issue and an economic issue, because women make up about half of our workforce and they’re increasingly the breadwinners for a whole lot of families out there.  So when they make less money, it means less money for gas, less money for groceries, less money for child care, less money for college tuition, less money is going into retirement savings. And it’s all bad for business, because our economy depends on customers out there, and when customers have less money, when hardworking women don’t have the r

esources, that’s a problem.  When businesses lose terrific women talent because they’re fed up with unfair policies, that’s bad for business.  They lose out on the contributions that those women could be making.  When any of our citizens can’t fulfill their potential for reasons that have nothing to do with their talent or their character or their work ethic, we’re not living up to our founding values.  We don’t have second-class citizens in this country -- and certainly not in the workplace.

So, tomorrow, the Senate has the chance to start making this right by passing a bill that Lilly already alluded to -- the Paycheck Fairness Act.  (Applause.)  They’ve got a chance to do the right thing.  And it would put sensible rules into place, like making sure employees who discuss their salaries don’t face retaliation by their employers.

And here’s why this is important.  There are women here today who worked in offices where it was against the rules for employees to discuss salaries with one another.  And because of that, they didn’t know they were being paid less than men -- just like Lilly didn’t know -- for doing the exact same work.  For some, it was years before they found out.  And even then, it only happened because a manager accidentally let it slip or, as in Lilly’s case, a sympathetic co-worker quietly passed a note.  She only found out she earned less than her male colleagues for doing the same work because somebody left an anonymous note.

We can’t leave that to chance.  And over the course of Lilly’s career, she lost more than $200,000 in salary, even more in pension and Social Security benefits -- both of which are pegged to salary -- simply because she was a woman.

And Lilly, and some of the other women here, decided it was wrong, set out to fix it.  They went to their bosses; they asked for a raise.  That didn’t work.  They turned to the law; they filed suit.  And for some, for years after waiting and persisting they finally got some justice.

Well, tomorrow, the Senate could pay tribute to their courage by voting yes for paycheck fairness.  (Applause.)  This should not be a hard proposition.  This should not be that complicated.  (Applause.)

And so far, Republicans in Congress have been gumming up the works.  They’ve been blocking progress on this issue, and of course other issues that would help with the economic recovery and help us grow faster.  But we don’t have to accept that.  America, you don’t have to sit still.  You can make sure that you’re putting some pressure on members of Congress about this issue.  And I don’t care whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican.  If you’re a voter -- if you’ve got a daughter, you got a sister, you got a mom -- I know you got a mom -- (laughter) -- this is something you should care about.

And I’m not going to stand still either.  So in this year of action I’ve used my executive authority whenever I could to create opportunity for more Americans.  And today, I’m going to take action -- executive action -- to make it easier for working women to earn fair pay.  So first, I’m going to sign an executive order to create more pay transparency by prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their pay with each other.  (Applause.)  Pay secrecy fosters discrimination and we should not tolerate it -- not in federal contracting or anywhere else.

Second, I’m signing a presidential memorandum directing the Department of Labor and our outstanding Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez, to require federal contractors to provide data about their employee compensation so pay discrimination can be spotted more easily.

Now, I want to be clear:  There are great employers out there who do the right thing.  There are plenty of employers out there who are absolutely certain that there’s no pay discrimination happening in their offices.  But then sometimes when the data is laid out, it paints a different picture.  Many times they then do everything they can to fix the problem, and so we want to encourage them to fix these problems if they exist by making sure that the data is out there.

So everybody who cares about this should pay attention to how the Senate votes tomorrow on this paycheck fairness act, because the majority of senators support this bill, but two years ago, a minority of Senate Republicans blocked it from getting a vote.  Even worse, some commentators are out there saying that the pay gap doesn’t even exist.  They say it’s a myth.  But it’s not a myth; it’s math.  (Laughter and applause.)  You can look at the paychecks.  You can look at the stubs.  (Applause.)

I mean, Lilly Ledbetter didn’t just make this up.  (Laughter.)  The court, when it looked at the documents, said, yep, you’ve been getting paid less for doing the same job.  It’s just the court then said, you know, it’s been -- as Lilly said -- it’s been happening so long, you can’t do anything about it anymore -- which made no sense and that’s why we had to sign another bill.  It’s basic math that adds up to real money.  It makes a real difference for a lot of Americans who are working hard to support their families.

And of course, the fact that we’ve got some resistance from some folks on this issue up on Capitol Hill just fits with this larger problem, this vision that the congressional Republicans seem to be continually embracing -- this notion that, you know what, you’re just on your own, no matter how unfair things are.  You see it in their budget.  The budget the Republicans in Congress just put forward last week, it’s like a bad rerun.  It would give massive tax cuts to households making more than a million dollars a year, force deep cuts to things that actually help working families like early education and college grants and job training.

And, of course, it includes that novel idea of repealing the Affordable Care Act.  (Laughter.)  Fiftieth time they’ve tried that -- which would mean the more than 7 million Americans who’ve done the responsible thing and signed up to buy health insurance, they’d lose their health insurance; and the 3 million young adults who’ve stayed on their parents’ plan, they’d no longer have that available; take us back to the days when insurers could charge women more just for being a woman.

On minimum wage, three out of four Americans support raising the minimum wage.  Usually when three out of four Americans support something, members of Congress are right there.  (Laughter.)  And yet here, Republicans in Congress are dead set against it, blocking a pay raise for tens of millions of Americans -- a majority of them women.  This isn’t just about treating women fairly.  This is about Republicans seemingly opposing any efforts to even the playing field for working families.

And I was up in Michigan last week and I just asked -- I don’t understand fully the theory behind this.  I don’t know why you would resist the idea that women should be paid the same as men, and then deny that that’s not always happening out there.  If Republicans in Congress want to prove me wrong, if they want to show that they, in fact, do care about women being paid the same as men, then show me.  They can start tomorrow.  They can join us in this, the 21st century, and vote yes on the Paycheck Fairness Act.  (Applause.)  Vote yes.

And if anybody is watching or listening, if you care about this issue, then let your senators know where you stand -- because America deserves equal pay for equal work.

This is not something we’re going to achieve in a day.  There’s going to be a lot of stuff that we’ve got to do to close the pay gap.  We got to make it possible for more women to enter high-paying fields that up until now have been dominated by men, like engineering and computer science.  Women hold less than 6 percent of our country’s commercial patents -- that’s not good enough.  We need more parents and high school teachers and college professors encouraging girls and women to study math and science.  We need more businesses to make gender diversity a priority when they hire and when they promote.  Fewer than five percent of Fortune 500 companies have women at the helm.

I think we’d all agree that we need more women in Congress. (Applause.)  Fewer than 20 percent of congressional seats are held by women.  Clearly, Congress would get more done if the ratio was -- (laughter) -- evened out a little bit.  So we’ve got to work on that.

And we’ve all got to do more to make our workplaces more welcoming to women.  Because the numbers show that even when men and women are in the same profession and have the same education, there’s still a wage gap, and it widens over time.  So we’re going to keep making the case for why these policies are the right ones for working families and businesses.  And this is all going to lead up to this first-ever White House Summit on Working Families on June 23rd.

So, ultimately, equal pay is not just an economic issue for millions of Americans and their families.  It’s also about whether we’re willing to build an economy that works for everybody, and whether we’re going to do our part to make sure that our daughters have the same chances to pursue their dreams as our sons, and whether or not we’re willing to restore to the heart of this country that basic idea -- you can make it, no matter who you are, if you try.  And that’s personal for me.  I’ve said this before -- I’ve got two daughters and I expect them to be treated just like anybody’s sons.  And I think about my single mom working hard, going to school, trying to raise two kids all at the same time.  And I think about my grandmother trying to work her way up through her career and then hitting the glass ceiling.  And I’ve seen how hard they’ve worked, and I’ve seen how they’ve sucked it up.  And they put up with stuff and they don’t say anything, and they just take care of their family and they take care of themselves, and they don’t complain a lot.  But at a certain point, we have the power to do something about it for the next generation.  And this is a good place to start.

So, for everybody out there who’s listening, ask your senator where you stand on paycheck fairness.  (Applause.)  If they tell you that there’s not a pay gap out there, you tell them to look at the data, because there is.  It’s time to get this done.  And I’m going to do my small part right now by signing this executive order and presidential memoranda.  (Applause.) 

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