While the rest of the world was watching Wendy Davis's epic filibuster to block Texas Senate Bill 5, Texas Governor Rick Perry was vetoing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which promised women equal pay for equal work.
The act, HB 950, had already passed in both the Texas House and Senate with bipartisan support. So why did Governor Perry hit the brakes? It turns out he received a personal letter urging him to veto the bill from surprising lobbyist: mega-retailer Macy's.
That's why today, anti-sexism group UltraViolet delivered a petition signed by over 80,000 people urging the company to "publicly pledge to never lobby against equal pay legislation again and apologize for their past efforts."
According to UltraViolet cofounder Shaunna Thomas other retailers (like Kroger, for instance) sent letters to Perry urging him to veto the bill; however, the group has decided to target Macy's "because it was the biggest retailer to lobby against it."
"It's not a stretch to call it a connection between Macy's sending the letter and the bill being vetoed," she said.
Even Thomas was surprised by Macy's lobbying efforts, which were brought to light by the Houston Chronicle. "In the midst of a lot going on in Texas that impacts women directly, and with the last special session in the Texas legislature, a lot of women's groups have been closely monitoring what's going on there," she explained to me. "We weren't expecting while monitoring women's health that equal pay would be vetoed."
It's hard to believe that in 2013, women are still fighting for equal pay. Fair pay laws are already in place in 46 states, leaving Texas in the clear minority. And even with such laws, women still make 77 cents on the dollar to a man--a number that drops to 62 cents on the dollar for African American women. Thomas tells me that over 40% of families currently have women as the primary breadwinner, which means this issue affects entire families.
Yet Macy's, and other members of the Texas Retailers Association, urged the one-time presidential candidate to veto the bill, claiming it would "lead to open-ended litigation" and that it "duplicated federal law." Equal pay is protected under the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963; however since it's difficult to sue at a federal level, most states have introduced their own individual laws to give employees further protection. (Speaking of the landmark 1963 Act, its 50th anniversary was two months ago.)
Macy's actions have led Texas-based women's groups to call for a boycott of the retailer during crucial tax-free holidays.
"The reaction has been pretty intense," Thomas says of the backlash. "Rick Perry, in some ways I think, has felt pretty immune to women's communities reaction to his approach to undermining women, but that being said if he has national ambitions this is going to be a huge problem for him."
And it won't just be a problem for Perry. "It's a losing issue for politicians and for corporations like Macy's that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars marketing to women," Thomas adds, saying that UltraViolet members consistently rank equal pay rights as the most important issue facing their lives.
As for Macy's, Thomas tells me that she hasn't heard of the retailer lobbying against similar bills in the past, but that she doesn't believe that they haven't--hence the petition. "This is the clearest evidence we have that a company like Macy's is using their leverage with a governor to veto a bill that would cost them money," she adds, hopeful that they will be receptive to today's petition delivery.
We have reached out to Macy's for comment and will update when we hear back.