“Well, this is a wonderful day,” said President Obama, before signing his first major piece of legislation, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which will make it easier for people to get equal pay regardless of their gender, race, or age.
“It is fitting that the very first bill that I sign is upholding one of this nation’s founding principles: that we are all created equal.”
Surrounded by leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and with the new law’s namesake, Lilly Ledbetter, receiving the cermonial pen, President Obama signed into law a powerful tool to fight discrimination.
“Ultimately, equal pay isn’t just an economic issue for millions of Americans and their families, it’s a question of who we are — and whether we’re truly living up to our fundamental ideals,” President Obama said. “Whether we’ll do our part, as generations before us, to ensure those words put on paper some 200 years ago really mean something — to breathe new life into them with a more enlightened understanding that is appropriate for our time.”
Mrs. Ledbetter spoke in the following White House video about what the new law means to her. Watch the video, which includes the president’s remarks, below, or read the full text of remarks by the president, and those of Michelle Obama from the reception that followed the ceremony, at the bottom.
UPON SIGNING THE LILLY LEDBETTER BILL
East Room, January 29, 2009
THE PRESIDENT: All right. Everybody please have a seat. Well, this is a wonderful day. First of all, it is fitting that the very first bill that I sign — the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act — that it is upholding one of this nation’s founding principles: that we are all created equal, and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness.
It’s also fitting that we’re joined today by the woman after whom this bill is named — someone who Michelle and I have had the privilege to get to know ourselves. And it is fitting that we are joined this morning by the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. (Applause.) It’s appropriate that this is the first bill we do together. We could not have done it without her. Madam Speaker, thank you for your extraordinary work. And to all the sponsors and members of Congress and leadership who helped to make this day possible.
Lilly Ledbetter did not set out to be a trailblazer or a household name. She was just a good hard worker who did her job — and she did it well — for nearly two decades before discovering that for years, she was paid less than her male colleagues for doing the very same work. Over the course of her career, she lost more than $200,000 in salary, and even more in pension and Social Security benefits — losses that she still feels today.
Now, Lilly could have accepted her lot and moved on. She could have decided that it wasn’t worth the hassle and the harassment that would inevitably come with speaking up for what she deserved. But instead, she decided that there was a principle at stake, something worth fighting for. So she set out on a journey that would take more than ten years, take her all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, and lead to this day and this bill which will help others get the justice that she was denied.
Because while this bill bears her name, Lilly knows that 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.
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 and child care; couples who wind up with less to retire on; households where 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 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 and plain discrimination.
So signing this bill today is to send a clear message: that making our economy work means making sure it works for everybody; that there are no second-class citizens in our workplaces; and that it’s not just unfair and illegal, it’s bad for business to pay somebody less because of their gender or their age or their race or their 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 lives and the daily realities of people: their ability to make a living and care for their families and achieve their goals.
Ultimately, equal pay isn’t just an economic issue for millions of Americans and their families, it’s a question of who we are — and whether we’re truly living up to our fundamental ideals; whether we’ll do our part, as generations before us, to ensure those words put on paper some 200 years ago really mean something — to breathe new life into them with a more enlightened understanding that is appropriate for our time.
That is what Lilly Ledbetter challenged us to do. And today, I sign this bill not just in her honor, but in the honor of those who came before — women like my grandmother, who worked in a bank all her life, and even after she hit that glass ceiling, kept getting up and giving her best every day, without complaint, because she wanted something better for me and my sister.
And I sign this bill for my daughters, and all those who will come after us, because I want them to grow up in a nation that values their contributions, where there are no limits to their dreams and they have opportunities their mothers and grandmothers never could have imagined.
In the end, that’s why Lilly stayed the course. She knew it was too late for her — that this bill wouldn’t undo the years of injustice she faced or restore the earnings she was denied. But this grandmother from Alabama kept on fighting, because she was thinking about the next generation. It’s what we’ve always done in America — set our sights high for ourselves, but even higher for our children and our grandchildren.
And now it’s up to us to continue this work. This bill is an important step — a simple fix to ensure fundamental fairness for American workers — and I want to thank this remarkable and bipartisan group of legislators who worked so hard to get it passed. And I want to thank all the advocates who are in the audience who worked so hard to get it passed. This is only the beginning. I know that if we stay focused, as Lilly did — and keep standing for what’s right, as Lilly did — we will close that pay gap and we will make sure that our daughters have the same rights, the same chances, and the same freedoms to pursue their dreams as our sons.
So thank you, Lilly Ledbetter.
(The bill is signed.)
AND MRS. LILLY LEDBETTER
AT RECEPTION AFTER BILL SIGNING
State Dining Room, The White House
MRS. OBAMA: So thank you for joining us today for this important event, and welcome to the White House. As I told guests, feel free, walk around, touch some stuff. (Laughter.) Just don’t break anything. (Laughter.) It’s what I try to tell my kids. (Laughter.)
I had the opportunity to meet Lilly during the campaign and to hear her story. First of all, she is one of my favorite people in the whole wide world. Anyone who meets Lilly can’t help but be impressed by her commitment, her dedication, her focus. She knew unfairness when she saw it, and was willing to do something about it because it was the right thing to do — plain and simple.
In traveling across the country over the past two years, Lilly’s story and the broader issue of equal pay was a concern voiced over and over and over again. It was a top and critical priority for women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds — older women, younger women, women with disabilities, and their families. This legislation is an important step forward, particularly at a time when so many families are facing economic insecurity and instability. It’s also one cornerstone of a broader commitment to address the needs of working women who are looking to us to not only ensure that they’re treated fairly, but also to ensure that there are policies in place that help women and men balance their work and family obligations without putting their jobs or their economic stability at risk.
And it is my honor to introduce this extraordinary woman whose hard work has brought us here today for this very special occasion, and who has been an inspiration to women and men all across this country. Ladies and gentlemen, Lilly Ledbetter.
MRS. LEDBETTER: Thank you. And thank you, Mrs. Obama.
I fell in love with those people campaigning with them. I have to tell you that. And that’s not on my prepared speech — (laughter) — but I have to tell you I love she and the President. And I just believe in them and their work so very much.
But thank you very much. Words cannot begin to describe how honored and humbled I feel today. When I filed my claim against Goodyear with the EEOC 10 years ago, never — never — did I imagine the path that it would lead me down. I have spent the past two years since the Supreme Court’s decision in my case fighting for equal pay for this day. But to watch you sign a bill that bears my name, the bill that will help women and others fight pay discrimination in the workplace, is truly overwhelming.
Goodyear will never have to pay me what it cheated me out of. In fact, I will never see a cent from my case. But with the passage and President’s signature today, I have an even richer reward. I know that my daughter and granddaughters, and your daughters and your granddaughters, will have a better deal. That’s what makes this fight worth fighting. That’s what made this fight one we had to win. And now with this win we will make a big difference in the real world.
On behalf of all the women in this country who will once again be able to fight pay discrimination, thank you. Thank you to all the senators and House members who fought for and supported this bill. Thank you to the many organizations and broad coalition that worked tirelessly for its passage. And thank you to the countless women around the country who rallied behind this legislation. It would never have happened without you.
With this bill in place, we now can move forward to where we all hope to be — improving the law, not just restoring it. President Obama, I want him to know that we’re very grateful for his support. And you can count on my continued commitment to fighting to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act — and to make sure that women have equal pay for equal work, because that’s what this country is all about.
And thank you very much.