We pride True Blue on having access and a place at the table, so I quickly accepted a White House invite to be at President Obama’s Thursday, July 31 speech on the Executive Order for Fair Pay and a Safe Workplace. I knew, in some important way, diversity and inclusion would be big players. They were. The Executive Order for Fair Pay and a Safe Workplace comes amidst continued debate surrounding what a fair wage is and who should be included in this concept of a “safe workplace.” A room full of union leaders, labor activists and labor attorneys listened with me as President Obama laid out the purpose of the Executive Order:
- To build “a ladder” to the middle class for those in working class positions
- To put policy in place to ease student loan debt , encouraging graduates to pursue more desirable careers
- To raise the minimum wage limit to $10.10, a “living wage,” so that everyone can afford to support themselves and their families
- To make sure that tax protections for companies are not put above efforts to protect employees
- To ensure that no one, despite race, gender or sexual orientation, is discriminated against in the workplace
- To ensure that those who pursue justice for sexual assault or civil rights violations are allowed to do so without risk to themselves or their jobs
Diversity and inclusion were clearly important factors for the creation and signing of this document. Reminding us that pay disparities between women and men are still a disturbing reality, President Obama stated that “when women succeed, America succeeds.” He continued, saying women are encouraged to do their absolute best when they are paid and given benefits in accordance with the work that they do. Their perceived “inferiority” or desire to have a family must not remain a hindrance to equal pay. At another point, the President stated that no one should be “fired because of who [they] love,” and that no one should be dismissed from receiving health benefits for themselves or for their significant other because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Right on to all that! Great progress, I’d say, in the face of so many hurdles. The roadblock tension between President Obama and House Speaker Boehner and many Congressional Republicans was heavy in the air. The President’s frustration was apparent as he joked about his willingness to do anything, even wash the cars and walk the dogs of congress members, to make some leeway on bills that have been on the table for months. It’s wonderful to be part of these candid sessions of policy-making, and to be able to share with you some under-the-table insights about how progress moves forward. What’s frustrating to me, of course, is how tediously difficult it is, what with so many deeply entrenched positions . . . not only between parties, but within parties. It is, sometimes, amazing that anything gets done. Luckily, on Fair Pay and a Safe Workplace, the President carried the day.