Posts Tagged ‘Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act’

 The following post was written by Rob Everts, Co-Director of Equal Exchange.

Rob Everts at the Equal Exchange Cafe in Boston.

This submission to our Small Farmers Big Change blog is admittedly a divergence from the topics of lively debate encouraged in these pages.  Divergent yes, but entirely consistent with the broader mission of Equal Exchange to build a more equitable world.


On April 1, 2010, I had the opportunity to join Lilly Ledbetter, Vicki Reggie Kennedy and Governor Deval Patrick, among others, to build momentum for proposed legislation that would guarantee seven paid sick days per year to workers in Massachusetts.  Remarkably, over 40% of private sector workers in this state do not receive a single paid sick day.  These workers tend to be in service sector jobs populated in large numbers by women, and equally as often by African Americans and immigrant workers.  Furthermore, of the total Massachusetts workforce – including those who have access to paid sick days—two-thirds cannot use these days to care for a sick child or an elderly parent.  For more information on the bill and ongoing campaign, see www.masspaidleave.org.

As a progressive employer who has long guaranteed paid sick days and other family friendly benefits to worker owners and employees on the path to co-op membership, we were asked to join the campaign both to inspire workers that their modest demands are just and to hopefully encourage other businesses to support the legislation.  In two consecutive legislative sessions I have testified on behalf of Equal Exchange for the bill. 

At the rally on April 1st, it was my turn to be inspired.  Among the moving testimonies shared that day, perhaps the most gripping was that of Lilly Ledbetter.  As a reminder to readers, for 19 years, Ms. Ledbetter worked as an area manager for the Goodyear Tire Company in Alabama, during which time she was paid less than her male colleagues. Ms. Ledbetter did not discover this until she was preparing for retirement, at which time she sued. In 2007, her case was brought to the Supreme Court and in a 5-4 decision the Court said she had exceeded the statute of limitations. Senator Ted Kennedy was touched by Ms. Ledbetter’s case and the injustice of her situation. He introduced a bill to correct the Court’s decision so that other women would have redress when denied their right to equal pay. Known as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, it was the first bill that President Obama signed into law in 2009.  She now travels widely advocating for fairness at work.  It is in this context that Ms. Ledbetter notes that since women are still the primary care-takers of their families, a lack of paid sick days is another way in which women are paid less; or worse, lose their jobs, thereby jeopardizing any chance for economic security. 

I spoke at length with Lilly before the rally.  (I’ve shifted to the personal reference here because within minutes it felt like we had become fast friends.)  We agreed that issues like this are at their root, quite simple: a matter of basic fairness.  They also make common business sense.  The warmth and personal debt of gratitude she feels toward Senator Kennedy—and to Vicki—was palpable.  And it helps drive her, a woman of over 70 years of age who not long ago lost her husband and is of modest means, to continue putting herself on the line for social and economic justice.  Lilly, along with the other 200-300 people in attendance were incredibly grateful for the visible and vocal role Equal Exchange is playing in this ongoing struggle.  Indeed, the big change we are working for takes many forms.

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