WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama, signing the first legislation of his presidency yesterday, made it easier for U.S. workers to win pay-discrimination lawsuits.
Obama had pushed for the legislation during his presidential campaign and it became the first measure to reach his desk since he took office Jan. 20. The measure gives a victory to labor groups, which supported his presidential bid.
"Equal pay is by no means just a women's issue - it's a family issue," Obama said at an East Room signing ceremony. "Signing this bill today is sending a clear message: that making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone."
The law will let employees pursue claims that they are being underpaid because of discrimination that occurred years earlier. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2007 had disallowed such lawsuits.
Its enactment was sought by labor and women's rights groups and opposed by business organizations. Unions spent more than $100 million in support of Obama and Democratic congressional candidates in the 2008 election season.
"We are heartened that this legislation was made a top priority of the new Congress and administration, because it demonstrates a return to the common-sense values of hardworking Americans," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said.
Meanwhile, a labor official told The Associated Press yesterday that Obama intends to overturn four Bush-era executive orders that unions opposed.
Obama planned to overturn one order today that allowed unionized companies to post signs informing workers that they were allowed to decertify their union, an order some claim is unfair because nonunion businesses are not required to post signs letting workers know they were legally allowed to vote for a union.
The official said the other three orders address similar administrative rules for labor groups. The official disclosed the plans on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to pre-empt the White House's plans. White House officials would not comment.