Henrietta Hay Column February 13, 2009

Centuries of battle finally achieved pay equality

We women have added one more big step up the ladder. Hillary Clinton put 118 million cracks in the ceiling, but the ladder still doesn’t reach to the top.

Women have finally won the legal right to equal pay for equal work. President Barack
Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 in a very emotional ceremony recently.

He told the story of Lilly Ledbetter as she stood beside him. Lilly, now 70, was nearing her retirement from her job in Alabama when she found out that her salary was much less than that of men doing the same or less-responsible work. She sued her employer, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, and a jury found the company guilty of discrimination.

The Supreme Court, however, by a 5-to-4 decision, 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.

Congress passed several bills to overturn the court, but President Bush vetoed them each time.

Now, at last, Lilly Ledbetter is a winner. She got to celebrate with a dance with the president at an Inauguration ball.

American women have fought for equality for over 200 years. As the Constitution was being written, Abigail Adams wrote her husband, John, pleading “Please remember the ladies.” Of course he didn’t.

For all those years we have been climbing up the ladder, one step at a time. Some women have been jailed for their activity, some have died in the fight. But, step by step, we have climbed.

My activity began in the early 1970s. The Grand Junction chapter of the National Organization for Women was formed and feminist activity began in Grand Junction. We had a lot of fun, and we took a lot of criticism. We marched in parades and 20 of us went to Denver as delegates to the Democratic State Convention to work for the Equal Rights Amendment.

Today the results of all that work are being seen in every field.

Locally we have made great progress. Some months ago a friend (male) gave me a list entitled “Women in charge in this valley.” There are 15 names on the list, and it is by no means complete. These are women here in Grand Junction who are in positions of great influence. They are women of competence and intelligence.

We have Grand Junction City Manager Laurie Kadrich; Phyllis Norris, president of City Market; Sally Schaefer, CEO of Hilltop; Christy Whitney, CEO of Hospice and Palliative Care, and many others. I wish I had room to list them all. Women may not be “in charge” of Happy Valley, but we are getting close

And we must never forget that each one of them is standing on the shoulders of the thousands who went before and battled for women’s rights.

There is another interesting statistic involving working women. The New York Times reports that in the midst of the current financial crisis, women may soon outnumber men in the work force.

The proportion of women who are working has changed very little since the recession started. But a full 82 percent of the job losses have befallen men, who are heavily represented in distressed industries like manufacturing and construction.

I wonder what John Adams would think if he could see American women today.

Henrietta can be reached by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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