The following is a transcript of a speech, as prepared for delivery, by Lilly Ledbetter, Women’s Equality Leader at the DNC on Tuesday, September 4, 2012.
Good evening, I’m Lilly Ledbetter and I’m here tonight to say: What a difference four years make!
Some of you may know my story: How for nineteen years, I worked as a manager for a tire plant in Alabama. And some of you may have lived a similar story: After nearly two decades of hard, proud work, I found out that I was making significantly less money than the men who were doing the same work as me. I went home, talked to my husband, and we decided to fight.
We decided to fight for our family and to fight for your family too. We sought justice because equal pay for equal work is an American value. That fight took me ten years. It took me all the way to the Supreme Court. And, in a 5-4 decision, they stood on the side of those who shortchanged my pay, my overtime, and my retirement just because I am a woman.
The Supreme Court told me that I should have filed a complaint within six months of the company’s first decision to pay me less even though I didn’t know about it for nearly two decades. And if we hadn’t elected President Barack Obama, the Supreme Court’s wrongheaded interpretation would have been the law of the land.
And that would have been the end of the story. But with President Obama on our side, even though I lost before the Supreme Court, we won. The first bill that President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. I think it says something about his priorities that the first bill he put his name on has my name on it too.
As he said that day with me by his side, “Making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone.”
The president signed the bill for his grandmother, whose dreams hit the glass ceiling, And for his daughters, so that theirs never will. Because of his leadership, women who faced pay discrimination like I did will now get their day in court.
That was the first step but it can’t be the last. Because women still earn just 77 cents for every dollar men make. Those pennies add up to real money. It’s real money for the little things like being able to take your kids to the movies and for the big things like sending them to college. It’s paying your rent this month and paying the mortgage in the future. It’s having savings for the bill you didn’t expect and savings for the dignified retirement you’ve earned.
Maybe 23 cents doesn’t sound like a lot to someone with a Swiss bank account, Cayman Island Investments and an IRA worth tens of millions of dollars. But Governor Romney, when we lose 23 cents every hour, every day, every paycheck, every job, over our entire lives, what we lose can’t just be measured in dollars.
Three years ago, the house passed the paycheck Fairness Act to level the playing field for America’s women. Senate Republicans blocked it. Mitt Romney won’t even say if he supports it. President Obama does. In the end, I didn’t get a dime of the money I was shortchanged.
But this fight became bigger than Lilly Ledbetter. Today, it’s about my daughter. It’s about my granddaughter. It’s about women and men. It’s about families. It’s about equality and justice.
This cause, which bears my name, is bigger than me. It’s as big as all of you. This fight, which began as my own, is now our fight–a fight for the fundamental American values that make our country great. And with President Barack Obama, we’re going to win. Thank you very much. God bless America.