Preckwinkle, Brown speak at Equal Pay Day Rally

Preckwinkle speaks at Equal Pay Day Rally. Photo: Joseph Duggan Lyons.

About 200 people joined female elected officials in Daley Plaza Tuesday for the second annual Equal Pay Day Rally, commemorating the day when a woman’s wages catch up to a man’s wages from Dec. 31 of the previous year.

Organized by Women Employed, the rally drew women and men on lunch break as well as union organizers and activists from around the city and downstate. Speakers implored the audience to educate themselves about discrimination in pay. Bureau of Labor statistics show that in 2008, Illinois women earned on average 78 cents to every dollar earned by men. African American and Latina women earn substantially less.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle spoke to the crowd about the importance of equal pay, invoking the story of Lilly Ledbetter, for whom the 2009 Fair Pay Act was named. Ledbetter worked as a manager at Goodyear Tire & Rubber for 19 years and upon retiring, discovered that she had been paid a fraction of what her male counterparts made. She sued and the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled against her.

“Lily Ledbetter didn’t give up,” Preckwinkle. “She campaigned tirelessly across the country for basic fairness. We’re shaped by her persistence, and the persistence of women who came before her and will come after her. We’re grateful for the countless women, few whose names ever appear in our history books, who spoke out marched and organized.”

Preckwinkle and other speakerss spoke to the fact that equal pay laws would not just effect women positively but families as well.

“We’re not talking about divisiveness,” said Monique Caradine, a television news personality and the event’s emcee. “We’re not saying we’re better than anyone else. We simply need resources available to us so that we can adequately provide for our parents and children.”

Chicago residents are protected by federal, state, county and city laws. Both federal and state laws require that men and women receive equal pay for equal work if the jobs are substantially similar. The pay gap has narrowed since 1963, when President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act. At that time women earned an average of 59 cents on the dollar.

Cook County Clerk of Court Dorothy Brown lauded the improvement but said that until women elect themselves and pass laws mandating fairness in pay, the inequality will remain.

“Despite breaking the ceilings in every profession known to man, it seems we need a rocket to launch us to the same pay levels as men,” Brown said. “Are we ready to launch that rocket ladies?”

Epic Academy Charter High School junior Shameesha Pryor read a letter to Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk asking him to support equal pay for women.

“Equality delayed is opportunity denied,” Pryor said. “Times are changing and women are taking a stand. No longer will women’s voices be shouted into the darkness of a man’s world.”

Specific legislation includes the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would allow employees to share salary information with coworkers.

Activists from Chicagoland and downstate attended the rally. Photo: Joseph Duggan Lyons.

Incoming State Program Vice President of the American Association of University Women Cindy Grau said this was the biggest issue facing women seeking equal pay.

“How can you know you’re being discriminated against if you can’t talk about your pay?” Grau said. “We want to get rid of the secrecy.”

Katie Jordan, president of the Chicago Coalition of Labor Union Women, said that her group has been fighting for equal pay for decades. She said that women have to negotiate and demand fair wages.

“We don’t get paid a penny more than we make them pay us,” Jordan said.

The group’s treasurer, Rochelle Parker, said they’re also fighting for fair wages for men too.

“We have husbands, sons and uncles,” Parker said. “We’re fighting for them also. It’s not as though men are paid what they’re worth either.”

Charges against discrimination resulting in equal pay can be filed at the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, (312) 744-4111; the Cook County Commission on Human Rights, (312) 603-1100; the Illinois Department of Human Rights, (312) 814-6200; and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, (800) 669-4000.