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Public Statements

Highway Technical Corrections Act of 2007

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

HIGHWAY TECHNICAL CORRECTIONS ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - April 17, 2008)



Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, the Senate must act to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and we must do so now. The House has already acted on this bill to restore the basic protection against pay discrimination as part of our Nation's commitment to equal justice and full civil rights for all.

Protecting these fundamental rights and ending discrimination in all forms are essential to our success as a nation. Republicans and Democrats worked together to enact our civil rights laws, and the American people want and deserve these protections to be implemented in full.

The guarantee of equal pay was first enacted in 1963. When President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, he emphasized that protection against pay discrimination is ``basic to democracy,'' and those words are still true today.

In the years that followed, Congress passed other strong, bipartisan laws to strengthen the guarantee of equal pay for millions of Americans. Over the years, the Senate has gone on record time and again in favor of fairness and against discrimination.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted after long, difficult, and contentious debate, but the cause of justice eventually prevailed. That landmark legislation included many important protections, including, for the first time, protection against pay discrimination on the job because of race, national origin, gender, and religion. That is title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Public accommodations is another very major part of that legislation. But title VII provided these kinds of protections against discrimination. That legislation passed 73 to 27.

We went on record again when the Age Discrimination in Employment Act was passed in 1967, with unanimous support in the Senate. Equal pay for those who are older; you are not going to be able to discriminate against the elderly. It was passed unanimously.

The consensus in favor of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which outlaws discrimination based on disability in federally funded programs and activities, was so strong it passed the Senate by a voice vote.

All of us are familiar with the fact that if there is going to be a dispute or major differences, people are going to call for a rollcall vote, even if there is going to be only a handful of people against it. In this situation, with regard to fair pay, equal pay, in the areas of those people who are working with the disabled, the guarantee was going to be fair pay. It, effectively, in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, passed the Senate by a voice vote.

In 1990, the Senate passed the Americans with Disabilities Act 91 to 6, and it was signed into law by the first President Bush. The first President Bush has stated--and I have heard him eloquently say it was the most important piece of legislation that passed and he signed into law. It had protections against discriminating against those who are disabled individuals.

We passed the Civil Rights Act of 1991 by an overwhelming margin of 93 to 5. That was a clear vote in favor of fairness. It too was signed into law by the current President's father.

On this chart is the list where the Senate has addressed this issue of equal pay for equal work. Going back to 1963, these are the different Presidents who signed legislation--including President Johnson, President Nixon, President Reagan, President Bush. Look at the overwhelming votes: a clear indication of what the intention has been by this Congress in terms of fairness and justice, and correctly so.

Each time we have considered the issue, the Senate has taken the high road. Once again, we must demonstrate that we mean what we say. These important laws established the bedrock principle of equal pay for equal work, and they have made our Nation a stronger and better and fairer land.

In these times of economic hardship, working people deserve more than ever the chance to earn a fair day's pay for an honest day's work. Yet, as a result of the Supreme Court's 5-to-4 decision--5 to 4: one vote--last May in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, more American workers will have to endure pay discrimination, without the means to stop it.

Let me show what is happening with regard to women at the present time. We have serious economic challenges we are facing today. But look at the overall economic challenges, the downturn in our economy, and how it is playing out in terms of women. Women's earnings are falling faster than men's. We all hear about the falling of purchasing power among working families across this country. We can see it is falling a good deal faster in terms of the decline in median wages in the year 2007 for women.

As I mentioned, this legislation also applies in terms of African Americans, the disability community, age discrimination, national origin quotas--all of them. Look what is happening with the current economic crisis. Minorities are hit hardest by the economic downturn. So we have the economic downturn going on, and we have this decision which said the employers are going to be able to discriminate against workers on the basis of race, gender, national origin. It is unbelievable that a Supreme Court of the United States, 5 to 4, would overturn 5 to 6 major pieces of legislation that were decided overwhelmingly by this body over a 30-year period which say we want equal pay for equal work.

The list goes on. We know, basically, women make 77 cents for every dollar paid to men. That is existing. These are the current data of the U.S. census in 2007. So this is the current situation, generally. What we are trying to do is change this; to get equal pay for equal work. But inherently, this is where we are in 2007, and unless we change this, it is going to continue or probably even grow worse.

It is reflected, as we would expect, in family income. This chart shows we are talking about equal pay for women, and this legislation also applies to African Americans and national origin. Here we have African-American men receiving 21 percent less pay than White men. We find the same for Latinos. They are affected by this decision as well. Latinos receive 72 cents for every dollar earned by White workers. This shows the distinction, the annual distinction, about $8,000 a year. This has been true.

So we know we are facing a difficult economic time. We also know the people who suffer the most are the people--whether it is women, whether it is African Americans, whether it is Latino, whether it is disability or whether it is elderly, all those groups are affected by the Ledbetter decision, and in the face of 30 years of this Congress saying time and time and time again, in a bipartisan way, we are going to insist on equality of pay for equal work. That is the issue. That had been the law. This legislation we are talking about with Ledbetter, we are trying to go back to what the law was.

This chart indicates--the light green is what we would go back to, and the dark green is where the EEOC held the same as we are proposing in this legislation. This had worked and worked effectively. That is why the CBO said this isn't any further additional burden on industry or business. We are going to hear that argument. We have the CBO study which says that, because basically most employers want to do the right thing. They understand it, they respect it, and they want to do the right thing. So they are not going to be penalized; it will be others who will be penalized.

On this final point, as I mentioned the different groups affected, this shows pay discrimination hurts all kinds of Americans. This orange depicts the disabled, this is national origin, 760. These are cases of pay discrimination charges, including 2,470 in terms of the gender; and on race, 2,352; on age discrimination, 978. So this is 7,000--these are the cases that are brought. Most estimates are it is in the hundreds of thousands of actual cases that are out there that people don't know about.

Lilly Ledbetter didn't know about the fact that she was being shortchanged for years and years and years because people keep the payroll secret. Finally, she hears from others who are working and who are doing comparable work, and she gradually puts it together that she has been shortchanged. Sure enough, she had been shortchanged for years and years and years. The local jury made the decision to pay the damages and the Supreme Court overruled it and said: You are out of luck, Lilly Ledbetter. You should have brought your case within 180 days of the time you were employed. Even though you didn't know about it, you still should have brought it. Even if you didn't know about it, tough luck. You have no remedies. No remedies. No remedies. It has been going on for years. None. That is fundamentally and basically wrong, and that is what we are changing.

We have very strong support for this legislation. We have the support of various groups, including the American Association of People With Disabilities; the AARP, obviously, because of discrimination of the elderly; Business and Professional Women, the NAACP, United Auto Workers, National Congress of Black Women, the Religious Action Center, U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce. They understand it and see it. The list goes on. I will include a more complete list with my remarks for the Record.

Many people give speeches on fairness and the need to help people in these tough economic times. An important way we can do so is by proving we still stand strongly against pay discrimination, that we would not allow the rights workers thought they had to be undone by misguided court decisions. Fair treatment for all employees is especially important now. As I mentioned, our faltering economy is hitting working families hard. There were 230,000 jobs lost in the first 3 months of this year. Unemployment rates climbed. Over 1 million working men and women have joined the unemployed since this past year.

Few doubt that we are now in a serious recession. It has been particularly hard on women and minorities and on workers--particularly hard. Of the 80,000 jobs that were lost in this last month, 50,000 were construction workers. The unemployment rate among women has risen sharply in the past year. Minorities are suffering more. Unemployment for African Americans is now well over 9 percent, almost twice the national average.

The impact of unfair pay practices is staggering. Today, as I mentioned, women still earn 23 percent less than men; African Americans, 21 percent less than White men; and Latinos earn 72 cents for every dollar paid to White workers.

In fact, the financial security of all working men and women is undermined by this recession.

Workers are suffering already, and millions increasingly find their paychecks do not go far enough. They don't deserve to bear the additional burden of discrimination in their pay. The cost of this discrimination becomes more and more intolerable over time. Lilly Ledbetter lost tens of thousands of dollars over the course of her career because every paycheck made the burden of the discrimination even greater.

There is no doubt that the Supreme Court's decision in the Ledbetter case has left employees without one of the fundamental protections against pay discrimination that Congress intended them to have. The Court decision undermined their ability to hold employers accountable for such discrimination by imposing serious and unnecessary obstacles to ending the discrimination against them.

Under the Ledbetter case, the time limit for filing of pay discrimination claim begins to run, as I mentioned, when an employer decides to discriminate--not when the worker finds out about the discriminatory paycheck. Employers who conceal their illegal action for 180 days are free to discriminate. They can pay women less than men. They can pay African Americans less than Whites. They can pay older Americans less than younger ones and pay religious minorities and persons with disabilities less than other workers. These employees can never, ever obtain relief. Paycheck after paycheck can keep implementing the discrimination, and workers have no way to hold employers accountable.

Clearly, the decision has opened up a flagrant loophole in our civil rights, and the Congress cannot let it stand. Under this bill, the 180-day clock restarts with every discriminatory paycheck, so employees can challenge ongoing discrimination, even if their employer successfully hides its true motives at first.

Lilly Ledbetter was one of the few women supervisors at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Gadsen, AL. She worked at the plant for almost two decades, constantly fighting to prove that women could do a job traditionally done by men. She endured insults from her male supervisors. She was told the plant didn't need women. Yet she persevered and gave the company a fair day's work. She had children and both she and her husband were working hard to support them. She had no idea Goodyear was not living up to its responsibility to pay her fairly.

For almost two decades, the company discriminated against her by using discriminatory evaluations to pay her less than her male colleagues who performed exactly the same duties. Many of those male colleagues had less seniority and experience than she had, but they were still paid more than she was for identical work.

The jury saw the injustice of Goodyear's mistreatment of Ms. Ledbetter and awarded her full damages. Five members of the Supreme Court ignored that injustice and ruled Ms. Ledbetter was entitled to nothing at all--nothing at all--because she filed her claim too late. The Court's decision gives countless employers a free hand to conceal and continue illegal discrimination and leaves workers powerless to stop it.

The bipartisan Fair Pay Restoration Act will restore the clear intent of Congress when we passed the important laws I mentioned earlier. It would restore the fair and reasonable rule that applied in the vast majority of the country until May 29 of last year. If we pass this bill, we can go back to the longstanding rule that the clock begins to run for filing a pay discrimination claim on the day a worker receives a discriminatory paycheck, rather than the day the employer first decides to discriminate.

By enacting this law, we will restore a rule that reflects how pay discrimination actually occurs in the workplace, and it will give all workers a fair means to stop ongoing discrimination and obtain fair compensation for the discrimination they have endured. By doing so, we will also be helping to prevent employers from engaging in such discrimination in the first place.

There is nothing radical about the changes this bill will make. It simply restores the law employers and workers had lived with for many years, until last May 29, the date of the Supreme Court's distressing decision.

I urge my colleagues to join me in restoring the full strength of the antipay discrimination laws we have enacted in the past. Let's take a clear stand for all working men and women and pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that this list of supporters be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:


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