Friday, January 30, 2009

A day after the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was signed, the New York Times ran a column about the many working women who have taken a stand for their rights. In need of inspiration for the work that we're doing? Take a look...

Lilly’s Big Day

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times By GAIL COLLINS
Gail Collins Published: January 28, 2009

President Obama is scheduled to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law today.

“I’m so excited I can hardly stand it,” Ledbetter said recently after the bill passed the Senate.

Obama told her story over and over when he campaigned for president: How Ledbetter, now 70, spent years working as a plant supervisor at a tire factory in Alabama. How, when she neared retirement, someone slipped her a pay schedule that showed her male colleagues were making much more money than she was. A jury found her employer, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, to be really, really guilty of pay discrimination. But the Supreme Court, in a 5-to-4 decision led by the Bush appointees, threw out Ledbetter’s case, ruling that she should have filed her suit within 180 days of the first time Goodyear paid her less than her peers.

(Let us pause briefly to contemplate the chances of figuring out your co-workers’ salaries within the first six months on the job.)

Until the Supreme Court stepped in, courts generally presumed that the 180-day time limit began the last time an employee got a discriminatory pay check, not the first. In an attempt at bipartisan comity, the Senate decided to simply restore the status quo, rejecting House efforts to make the law tougher. Even then, only five Republican senators voted for it — four women and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who is currently the most threatened of the deeply endangered species known as moderate Republicans.

Ledbetter, who was widowed in December, won’t get any restitution of her lost wages; her case can’t be retried. She’s now part of a long line of working women who went to court and changed a little bit of the world in fights that often brought them minimal personal benefit.

Another was Eulalie Cooper, a flight attendant who sued Delta Air Lines in the mid-’60s when she was fired for being married. Not only did a Louisiana judge uphold the airline industry’s bizarre rules requiring stewardesses to be young and single, Cooper was denied unemployment benefits on the grounds that by getting married she left her job “voluntarily.”

But she began a pattern of litigation that eventually ended the industry’s insistence that women needed to look like sex objects in order to properly care for passengers on airplanes. Next time you talk about US Airways Flight 1549’s spectacular landing on the Hudson River, remember that the three flight attendants who kept calm in the ditched plane were all women in their 50s and give a nod to people like Eulalie Cooper.

Patricia Lorance, an Illinois factory worker, went to court after her union and employer secretly agreed to new seniority rules that discriminated against the women who had been promoted in the post-Civil Rights Act era of the 1970s. Like Ledbetter, she lost her court fight because of a ridiculous ruling about timing, which had to be fixed by Congress.

Working at a series of lower-paying jobs after the factory closed, and then disabled by physical ailments, Lorance lost track of her case long before it finally wound its way through the Supreme Court. “But to this day, I am rather proud of myself because I was not a dumb person. I believe in just standing up and fighting for your own rights,” she said in a phone interview.

Ledbetter’s real soul sister is Lorena Weeks of Wadley, Ga. Weeks, now 80, had worked two jobs to support her orphaned siblings, then struggled with her husband to set enough money aside to assure their children would be able to go to college. A longtime telephone employee, she applied for a higher-paying job overseeing equipment at the central office. Both her union and the management said the job was unsuitable for a woman because it involved pushing 30-pound equipment on a dolly, even though Weeks regularly toted around a 34-pound typewriter at her clerical job.

Weeks v. Southern Bell helped smash employers’ old dodge of keeping women out of higher-paying positions by claiming that they required qualifications only men could fulfill. But it was a long, painful fight during which Weeks was terrified that she might lose her job entirely. “I felt like I was so alone, and yet I knew I was doing what God wanted me to do. Going back to the fact my momma had died working so hard. And I knew women worked and needed a place in the world,” she said.

It’s a good day for the feisty working women who went to court to demand their rights and the frequently underpaid lawyers who championed them. They’re strangers to one another; most of them made their stands and then returned to their ordinary lives. But they’re a special sorority all the same. And Lilly Ledbetter got to go to the inauguration and dance with the new president.

“Tell her congratulations,” said Lorena Weeks.

To see the original article online, please click here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Breaking News!

Today, president Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- which overturns a 2007 Supreme Court decision that put a strict statute of limitations on the filing of lawsuits over pay inequities. Prior to today, these lawsuits had to be filed within 180 days of the first time the pay discrepancy took place. In Ledbetter's case, she was unaware that she was being paid less than a male counterpart for nearly 20 years! Now, with each paycheck that is unjust, the statute of limitations is extended 180 days further, meaning that women like Lilly, who don't realize they're not being paid an equal wage, can sue when it comes to their attention -- regardless of how long it's been happening.

What a great victory for working women!! To read about the bill, please click see the Associated Press article or the CNN article.

And... here's a peek into Obama's statement's as he signed the bill:

"...While this bill bears her name, Lilly knows this story isn't just about her. 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.

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."

Dear Helpline

The New York Times is reporting today that the number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits has reached an all-time high. Read the article here. With so many people out of work and needing assistance, 9to5 wants to make sure you know about recent changes to the unemployment benefits you can receive. The following has been taken from the "Dear Helpline" column in 9to5's Winter 2009 Newsline:

I only have one week left of unemployment benefits and I haven't found a new job. What can I do??

You're in luck -- in December, Congress passed an extension of unemployment insurance benefits for all fifty states. This means that everyone currently receiving unemployment insurance can collect benefits for seven more weeks. Also, if you live in a state with an unemployment rate higher than 6% (which is now a majority of states) your benefits will be extended another thirteen weeks -- for a total of twenty additional weeks. To find out how long your extension will be, contact your state Department of Labor or the Bureau of Labor Statistics at (202) 691-5200 or for the unemployment rate in your state.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Can Georgia do more for working families?

9to5 is a leading member of the Georgia Job/Family Collaborative -- a statewide coalition of organizations working to pass the Parent Protection Act (HB 37). This act would give Georgia workers 24-hours each year of unpaid leave to take care of family obligations, such as registering children for school and taking children, a spouse, or an elderly relative to routine medical appointments. Sounds simple enough, right? But currently in Georgia, which is an at-will employment state, many workers could face penalties at work (including termination!) if they take off work for these reasons.

Take 9to5 member Vickie, for example. After working for more than 20 years at the same printing plant in Atlanta, she lost her job because she refused to work three hours of "mandatory overtime" after completing her regular eight hour shift. Vickie refused overtime because that was the only day she could register her children for the upcoming school year and for the after-school program they attended until she got off work.

If the Parent Protection Act becomes law, working mothers like Vickie would be guaranteed time off -- at no cost to employers! -- to take care of necessary family responsibilities.

Tell your state representative to support working families by passing HB 37! Tell them your story! Find contact information for your legislator here. (Just enter your zip code in the box on the left and then click on "current officials." This bill is currently in the Georgia House of Representatives, so contact your Georgia Representative.)

To find out more about the Georgia Job/Family Collaborative, to join the coalition, or to see a sample letter to send to your legislator, please visit our website or send us an email at

Friday, January 23, 2009

Inauguration 2009

Unless you live under a rock, you must know that the inauguration of President Barack Obama happened this week, on Tuesday, January 20th. A record-breaking 1.8 million people turned out to witness this event at the nation's capitol. Millions of others from all over the world tuned in to watch him take oath and give his first address to the nation as President, including me!

President Obama has been very busy in his first few days of office, but let's take a moment to savor the his inauguration before we move onto business. I attempted to watch the ceremony from the Internet on the campus of Georgia State, but everyone else was doing the same. The picture would leave, the sound and image would freeze. Lucky for me, I have Tivo and that evening I watched again, after a long day. Earlier, I was emotional and feeling the rush of adrenaline, but later, I felt a sense of calmness and peace that I have not felt in quite some time. I wish I could say my experience was more exciting. I have friends who spent the day in D.C. Yes, I was jealous. No matter what, the day was exciting!

How did you spend the day? Where were you when you watched? And how did you feel? Share your memories of this historic day.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The minimum wage - is it enough?

When I was born in 1968, the minimum wage was $1.68. Doesn’t seem like much, but its value in today’s dollar is equal to $10.26! At my first job as a housekeeper at a hotel, I earned the minimum wage. I was still in high school, but I maintained this job on weekends and throughout the summers in order to save for college and pay for gas. This was in 1985 and the minimum wage was $3.35. At the time, the purchasing power of my hourly wage was the equivalence of $6.61 today, which is on par with the current Federal minimum wage of $6.55. Since the time of my birth to my first job, the purchasing power of working Americans has decreased significantly, but since the time of my first job, another 20 years has passed and the value of the minimum wage has basically remained unchanged.

Let’s do more math. (C'mon, it's not so bad!) A full-time worker making $6.55 an hour takes in $262 a week, before taxes - for an annual salary of $13,000! Let me type that again - $13,000!!!!!! Add to this that the majority of minimum wage earners do not have access to healthcare benefits at work, or even paid sick days. The sad fact remains that a large percentage of minimum wage workers are no longer teenagers at their first job, but are heads of households, many of them single mothers. Kind of makes you wonder how, on one hand, we can see so much progress within our nation, and on the other, we are frozen in time, if not moving backwards. How do you feel about this?

Share with us your first job, first hourly wage, and what you think the minimum wage should be at this point in time for a working member of society to take care of herself and a family?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Do you know how to comment on the 9to5 blog??

I've received a lot of emails lately with questions about how to comment on the 9to5 Atlanta blog. So, here's a quick how-to...

1. At the bottom of this post, click on "0 comments" (or it may say 1 comment, 2 comments, 3 comments...). This will take you to the page where you can post a comment. If someone has commented before you, it will show up in the lefthand column. Feel free to respond to those comments, as well as the original post!

2. In the box on the right -- with the heading "Leave a comment" -- type your comments.

3. Below that is a "word verification" box. Type the series of numbers/letters you see above it to verify that you are not a spammer.

4. Scroll down to the "choose an identity" heading. If you select the circle next to "name/URL" you can type your name, so people will see who posted the comment. If you're uncomfortable identifying yourself, please feel free to click the circle next to "anonymous." No one will know who posted your comment if you post it anonymously.

5. Click "publish your comment" so everyone can read what you have to say!

PLEASE NOTE: 9to5 administrators read every comment before it can become public on the blog. After you've posted a comment, please check back in a couple of hours to see it posted to the blog. Or, if you post over the weekend, check back on Monday.

Total 2008 job loss: 2.6 million

Annual loss is biggest since the end of World War II. Payrolls shrink by 524,000 in December, and unemployment rate rises to 7.2%.

Read the full article here.

Did you lose your job during 2008? Do you want to share your story? Leave a comment on the blog or call the 9to5 Job Survival Helpline at 800-522-0925 to become a part of our Voices project!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

9to5 has launched a new website!

Check it out at

This is just a soft launch, which means more changes are to come in the future - and chapter websites aren't yet fully updated, but now is the time for you to give us your input.

Do you like our new design? Is it easy to navigate? Missing something you'd like to see? Let us know what you think!