Women workers expect early victories from new Congress

On Jan.7 the House of Representatives is expected to hand workers a victory by passing two bills to ensure equal pay for women and reverse the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that severely restricted the rights of women to combat pay discrimination through the courts.

Action on both the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act is set for that day. Both bills passed the House in the last session, but Senate Republicans blocked a similar vote in the Senate.

After years of employment at an Alabama Goodyear tire plant, Ledbetter realized that she was being paid less than the lowest-paid man doing the same work. She gathered her evidence, filed suit and was awarded $3.8 million by a jury. Goodyear, however, appealed to the Supreme Court.

In May, 2007, the Supreme Court cancelled the award and ruled that Ledbetter and other workers had no right to sue for a remedy for pay discrimination when they waited more than 180 days after their first paycheck, even if they didn’t discover the pay discrimination until years after they were hired.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), would provide more effective remedies for women who are not paid equal wages for doing equal work, by strengthening the 1963 Equal Pay Act.

Despite the Equal Pay Act, surveys show that women are paid only 77 cents for every dollar a man is paid, According to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Women who are covered by union contracts are guaranteed equal pay, but millions of other working women don’t have that protection and rely, therefore, on current inadequate fair pay laws.

Earlier, Congressional leaders had hoped they could move almost as fast on the entire economic recovery package which they had hoped to have ready for Obama to sign as soon as he takes office. Republican leaders, however, are slowing the action. As a result, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said final votes on the recovery legislation would come by early February.

Obama has wasted no time signaling that he intends to move quickly on legislation important to working people. He is meeting this week with Congressional leaders to put together an economic recovery package that emphasizes job creation, tax relief for middle class families, extensions of unemployment benefits and aid for states caught in the vice of the tightening economic crisis.

In his weekly radio talk, Obama said the economic package- the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan- would “not only create jobs in the short term, but spur economic growth and competitiveness in the long term. We must make strategic investments that will serve as a down payment on our long-term economic future. We must demand vigorous oversight and strict accountability for achieving results. And we must restore fiscal responsibility and make the tough choices so that as the economy recovers, the deficit starts to come down. That is how we will achieve the number one goal of my plan – which is to create 3 million new jobs, more than 80 percent of them in the private sector.”