U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Acting as if Women Aren’t a Part of the Economy

Last week, in defending the Bush tax cuts, a Chamber spokesman said the Obama administration was “acting as if the upper class aren’t part of the economy.”  But the Chamber seems to be neglecting a more significant part of the economy than the 2% who would benefit from the Bush tax cuts. Ignoring the fact that women-owned firms account for 28% of businesses, the Chamber continues to oppose policies that would help women grow our economy – and create much needed jobs. On the ninetieth anniversary of women’s suffrage, U.S. Chamber Watch took a look at the Chamber’s long history of excluding women from economic opportunity.

NOW:

U.S. Chamber Opposed Paycheck Fairness Act.  According to USA Today, Paycheck Fairness Act “languished in Congress for several years… and it has been stalled by opposition from some Republicans and business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”  In July 2010, President Barack Obama announced he would “press Congress…to pass pay-equity legislation that would make it easier for women to sue employers who pay them less than their male counterparts…” [USA Today, 7/20/10] 

U.S. Chamber “Strongly” Opposed Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Threatened to Count it As Key Vote. In April 2008, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce “strongly” urged members of Congress “to oppose H.R. 2831, the ‘Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.’” The Chamber turned to a tort reform refrain, arguing that “subjecting employers to such claims would literally lead to an explosion of litigation second guessing legitimate employment and personnel decisions.” “Nor is it clear how an employer would defend itself from such a claim without the ability to go back in time and make the types of robust statistical analyses necessary for a defense.”  The Chamber’s head lobbyist, Bruce Josten, concluded the letter, “For these reasons, the Chamber strongly urges you to oppose H.R. 2831 and may consider votes on, or in relation to, this issue in our annual How They Voted scorecard.” [U.S. Chamber of Commerce “Key Vote Alert!” Letter, April 22, 2008]

U.S. Chamber Worries Defendants Unlikely to Prevail against “Tear-Stained” Plaintiffs.  “Few defendants would be likely to prevail at trial – even when the challenged decision was entirely bias-free – by meeting the live, detailed, and often tear-stained testimony of the plaintiff with a few words recorded on a document.” [Brief of U.S. Chamber for Respondent Goodyear, Ledbetter v. Goodyear, 550 U.S. 618 (2007)]

U.S. Chamber Said Act Would “Undermine America’s Civil Rights Laws.” In a January 2009 letter to Congress, R. Bruce Josten of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote, “the Chamber opposes S. 181 on both substantive and procedural grounds.” Discussing the bill, the Chamber’s Randel Johnson said the bill would lead to “frivolous litigation,” and that the bill would “undermine America's civil rights laws.” [Chamber Letter, 1/14/09; BestWire, 1/28/09]

U.S. Chamber Maintains Opposition to Family Medical Leave Act: “Opposing Efforts to Expand FMLA” To Small Businesses is a Chamber 2010 Policy Priority. FMLA is the law that allows employees to take job-protected time from work if they or a family member are seriously ill. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce website, one of its labor policy priorities for 2010 is to “Oppose efforts to expand FMLA by covering smaller businesses and making leave paid.” [U.S. Chamber of Commerce website, Accessed 8/18/10]

U.S. Chamber VP Said Business Community Would Wage “All-Out War” Against Paid Family Leave. Randel Johnson, vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits at the United States Chamber of Commerce, said the business community will wage “all-out war” against paid family leave because “paid leave will give employees an incentive to use it.” [Austin Business Journal, 9/10/07]

AND THEN:

1977: U.S. Chamber Opposed Amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to Cover Women From Discrimination Due to Pregnancy.  The New York Times reported, “Women’s rights groups and organized labor urged Congress today to counter a major Supreme Court ruling by amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to make the law clearly prohibit job discrimination because of pregnancy.  But the United States Chamber of Commerce opposed the move…” [New York Times, 4/7/77]

U.S. Chamber Opposed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Arguing Pregnancy Is A “Voluntary” Condition.  A 1978 article described the fight against the Pregnancy Discrimination Act as lead by “the Chamber of Commerce of the U.S., the National Association of Manufacturers and other business groups. They argue that pregnancy, as a "voluntary" condition, should not be equated with illness…” [U.S. News & World Report, 7/10/78]

1991: U.S. Chamber Opposed Family and Medical Leave Because Government Shouldn't Be "Personnel Administrators." Discussing the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1991, Richard Lesher, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said, "We think most Americans don't want the federal government to be their personnel administrators." [Washington Post, 5/15/91]

1987: Chamber Said FMLA Set a "Dangerous Precedent." Discussing the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1987, Virginia B. Lamp of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said, “the bill [i]s creating a ‘dangerous precedent’ of federally mandated employee benefits. [New York Times, 2/3/87]

U.S. Chamber Opposed 1998 Equal Pay Law for Women. In 1998, the Chamber opposed President Clinton’s call for legislation to strengthen laws reducing disparities in men and women’s earning power. Randel Johnson, vice president of labor policy at the chamber, said that wage disparities are due mainly to the interruption of many women's job careers to raise families. "Work experience does tend to translate to greater wages," Johnson said. [AP, 6/10/98]

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