With the war on women’s reproductive rights losing traction as a 2012 election issue, according to polls of women, and the economy No. 1 on everyone’s minds, Democrats are making an obvious connection between the two. The bridge is Lilly Ledbetter, a
real-life example of the lingering effect of pay inequity.
Her name is immortalized in the first piece of legislation President Obama signed in 2009, though listening to her you get the feeling she would have rather earned the same as the men she worked beside for close to two decades at Goodyear Tire and Rubber in Alabama. The Supreme Court ruled that her discrimination claim came too late — more than 180 days after receiving her first paycheck — and though the law resolved the problem, it was not in time to help her.
In a conference call on Monday, Ledbetter said standing there when President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act “was one of the proudest days of my life.” But she also said that because of the imbalance of her working years, she is paying the price in lower retirement funds and Social Security checks.
Ledbetter was joined by North Carolina Democratic state representatives Verla Insko and Deborah Ross to speak on behalf of the Paycheck Fairness Act scheduled for consideration by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday. It moves beyond the Ledbetter act, pressuring employers to provide reasons for wage disparities between men and women and making it easier for employees to share information about pay without fear of retribution.
“Paycheck fairness is really an issue that is near and dear to my heart,” Ledbetter said. “I know what it’s like when your family is shortchanged.” She chided Mitt Romney for not saying whether he would have voted for the Lilly Ledbetter act, though when asked his campaign said he “supports pay equity and is not looking to change current law.”
The Paycheck Fairness Act isn’t just about women; it’s about their families and their economic security, according to Ledbetter, who said she is speaking out on behalf of her daughter and granddaughter.
“If Mitt Romney wants to be president,” she said, he “shouldn’t have to think twice.” She said he has a chance to stand up to Republicans in Washington.
Ledbetter said President Obama, whose grandmother “worked in a bank long after she hit the glass ceiling and was paid less,” promotes “a level playing field” with his support of the new legislation.
Although Romney is doing well enough in his campaign to just stay back and resist any arguments with his party, Democrats are doing their best make him take a stand they hope women voters will remember.
It doesn’t hurt when the woman asking the questions about pay equality is someone who’s been there.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, has worked at the New York Times and Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3.