If any women’s rights issue should be without controversy, the proposition that women should get paid the same amount as men do for the same work would seem to be primary. Who could be against that? Well, it turns out that Republican presidential nominee John McCain is against it. Oddly a group of women who purportedly are acting for women’s rights are going to support McCain, and by doing so, back his position that women aren’t entitled to be paid the same as men are paid for doing the exact same job.
A bit more than one year ago, the United States Supreme Court issued an extremely right-wing ideological opinion in the case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber. In short, Lily Ledbetter had worked for Goodyear for decades and learned that she was making substantially less than men doing the same job. She sued and won. The Supreme Court decided that she lost. Overturning decades of decisions, it held that unless a woman sued for pay violations within six months of the first unequal paycheck, the statute of limitations had lapsed and there was nothing a woman could do. While the decision was narrowly one interpreting the statute of limitations, in fact it took away most women’s right to legal redress for discrimination in pay. Very few people are aware, during the first six months of employment, that they are being paid less than others in the same position. Sometimes the pay differential during that time may not be that great but will increase over years of work. Often people who are newly hired feel uncomfortable asking their employers and fellow employees what others earn. This isn’t the sort of thing that is posted on bulletin boards or the company’s web site. The courts have understood this and before the Ledbetter decision have almost unanimously ruled that each unequal paycheck was a separate and new violation of the law which would start the running of a new statute of limitations. The Supreme Court though decided that once a wrong goes on long enough, it turns into the right thing to do.
If this Supreme Court had ruled on the Emancipation Proclamation, it would have ordered that only slaves enslaved in the previous six months could be freed.
There was an outcry, not only from women’s rights advocates, but from most people concerned about ending discrimination in the workplace. The Democratic controlled House of Representatives quickly passed a new law which would have overturned the Ledbetter decision. The law then went before the Senate.
To their credit, both Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama suspended campaigning during the primary season to return to Washington and back the new bill. In the Senate, unlike the house, a minority can keep a bill from being voted on. In order to force a vote, the supporters of a bill have to gather 60 votes to enforce “cloture” or the closing of debate.
Sen. John McCain however, did not return to Washington to vote. Since he did not return, he would not be one of the senators making up the 60 votes needed to cut off debate. He explained why: “I am all in favor of pay equity for women, but this kind of legislation, as is typical of what’s being proposed by my friends on the other side of the aisle, opens us up to lawsuits for all kinds of problems. This is government playing a much, much greater role in the business of a private enterprise system.”
This is political double-talk. He said he was for pay equity. He just didn’t want women to be able to sue in courts, the only way they could achieve pay equity. The code here is that equality in the workplace is less important than the freedom of employers to do what they want. Presumably, equality for African-American workers, the disabled, gays and lesbians, seniors and the like are all less important than stopping government from enforcing fairness in jobs in the view of the “maverick” John McCain. McCain, by not voting for cloture, thus came down squarely against a woman’s right to be paid the same as a man for doing the same work.
Now, because they are opposed to the way the Democratic Party treats women—specifically Hillary Clinton—a substantial portion of Clinton’s supporters are going to sabotage women’s rights (as well as the rights of racial minorities, gays, the disabled, seniors and others) to equal pay and equal rights on the job. These Hillary supporters are so angry that are going to vote for a troglodyte who (while living on his wife’s money) will complete the destruction of the equality of women in the workplace.
It makes no sense that anyone except those with the most extreme views about the right to discriminate would support such a candidate, and one hopes that the disgruntled Hillary supporters will see this.
Paul Glusman is a Berkeley attorney.