Equal Pay champion to speak at UNM-LA Friday

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By Carol A. Clark

Lilly Ledbetter is the namesake of the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act signed into law in January by President Barack Obama.

Ledbetter is traveling to UNM-Los Alamos as part of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Spring Convention.

The public is invited to hear Ledbetter speak at 4 p.m. Friday in the college lecture hall in Building 2, about how her historic legislation restored the long-standing interpretation of civil rights laws and EEOC policies that allow employees to challenge any discriminatory paycheck they receive.

“A friend of mine describes Lilly Ledbetter as the Rosa Parks of our generation,” said AAUW-New Mexico co-president Nina Thayer. “That’s true – Lilly Ledbetter is an amazing and courageous woman.”

Co-president Mary Sandford from Carlsbad plans to attend the convention and Ledbetter’s presentation.

“Lilly Ledbetter is important to AAUW because our mission is to promote equity for women and  girls,” Sandford said during a telephone interview from her Carlsbad office Thursday.

Ledbetter was a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant in Alabama from 1979 until her retirement in 1998. She worked as an area manager much of that time. Area managers at the time were mostly men, according to a White House blog post.

Initially, Ledbetter’s salary was in line with the salaries of men performing substantially similar work. Over time, however, her pay slipped in comparison to the pay of male area managers with equal or less seniority.

By the end of 1997, Ledbetter was the only woman working as an area manager and the pay discrepancy between Ledbetter and her 15 male counterparts was stark. Ledbetter was paid $3,727 per month; the lowest paid male area manager received $4,286 per month and the highest paid male received $5,236.

AAUW Action Network members and coalition partners worked hard to ensure the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act became law. Now the nonprofit organization is urging the Senate to continue the fight against wage discrimination by acting swiftly on the Paycheck Fairness Act to ensure Americans receive equal pay.

Included in the Paycheck Fairness Act is the ability for employees to discuss their paychecks. While Los Alamos National Laboratory, state employees and teachers are allowed to disclose their salaries, many companies maintain termination policies for employees who share salary information.

Equal pay for men and women still has a long way to go. According to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2007 the ratio of women’s and men’s median annual earnings reached almost 78 cents on the dollar for full-time year-round workers.

This is up from just under 77 cents back in 2006.

This wage gap is the narrowest ever been but it’s still only an additional one cent on the dollar.

While women and organizations have been hard at work to earn that extra penny, Congress has failed to pass legislation that would give women effective equal pay protections.

In New Mexico, the median annual earnings of men with a college degree or more during 2004-2006 earned $64,000 compared to $47,000 for women with the same education level.

That equates to a 73 percent earnings gap, according to information derived from the AAUW Educational Foundation analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

“Behind the pay gap” research released by AAUW in April 2007, shows that just one year out of college, women working full-time already earn less than their male colleagues, even when they work in the same field.

Ten years after graduation, the pay gap widens. The gender gap in the research, science and technology fields is 89 percent.

To match men’s earnings for 2008, women have to work from January 2008 to April 2009 — an extra four months.

Thayer said that in recognition of this inequity, Equal Pay Day will be celebrated nationwide April 28.

“Los Alamos has got Lilly Ledbetter just a little early, Thayer said, to celebrate Equal Pay Day.”

The theme for this year’s AAUW-LA convention is “Think Green – Think Smart.” There is no charge for Friday’s Ledbetter presentation, which is sponsored by AAUW-NM, the Southwest Women’s Law Center and UNM-LA.

For information, visit www.aauw-nm.org.