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Romney's insult to women on equal pay

By Lilly Ledbetter, Special to CNN
April 25, 2012 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Will Mitt Romney support equal pay for women? Lilly Ledbetter says his silence on the issue is disconcerting.
Will Mitt Romney support equal pay for women? Lilly Ledbetter says his silence on the issue is disconcerting.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mitt Romney's campaign drew a blank when asked if it supports the Lilly Ledbetter Act
  • Lilly Ledbetter: It's insulting that Romney wouldn't give a straight answer on whether he would sign the law
  • She says pay equality is not just about fairness, it's about economic security for all families
  • Ledbetter: Romney's positions would mean that women would face economic setbacks

Editor's note: Lilly Ledbetter is the co-author of "Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond" (Crown Archetype). She has campaigned and raised funds for President Barack Obama.

(CNN) -- It took more than 20 years to get an answer for the injustices I suffered as an unfairly paid worker, so I know what it's like to wait. But the six seconds of silence from Mitt Romney's campaign recently seemed like forever.

Romney's advisers held a conference call inviting reporters to ask questions. One was simple and straightforward: "Does Gov. Romney support the Lilly Ledbetter Act?"

In other words, when a woman is paid less than a man for doing the same work, does the presumptive Republican nominee support her right to fight for the equal pay she's guaranteed under the law? That's exactly what the bill that bears my name ensures -- it simply gives workers a fair shot to make their case in court.

It's not a hypothetical question. Women get paid just 77 cents for every dollar a man gets. That means a woman would have had to work from January 1, 2011, until this Tuesday to match what men earned in 2011 alone.

Lilly Ledbetter
Lilly Ledbetter

Romney's team has certainly had enough time to think about its candidate's positions -- he's been running for president for six years -- and about the law in question, which was the very first one that Barack Obama signed as president more than three years ago.

But Romney's team drew a blank. The line went silent. Crickets. When an adviser finally piped up, it wasn't to answer the question. It was to tell the reporter, "We'll get back to you on that."

The Republican nominee for president doesn't know whether he supports the principle of equal pay for an equal day's work? He needs some time to think about it? What an insult.

Romney then went on national television, where Diane Sawyer asked him if he would have signed the bill into law. He still wouldn't give a straight answer, saying that he had no "intention of changing that law." In other words, he ducked the question. For all we know, had the Ledbetter bill crossed Romney's desk instead of President Obama's, Romney would have vetoed womens' right to fight back. And if a future Republican Congress tries to repeal the Ledbetter law, we don't know whether Romney would let it. If the Paycheck Fairness Act, which goes even further to outlaw gender discrimination in the workplace, reached his desk, we don't know whether he would stop it.

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While Romney decides whether he opposes gender discrimination, here is an important reality he should consider: This isn't just about women. It's about all families and their economic security.

The consequences of unequal pay reach far beyond the paychecks women take home every week. My pension and Social Security were based on an unfair salary, so over the course of my career, I was cheated out of hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have gone to my kids' education or my family's medical bills or to support the shops and small businesses in my community. I also worked countless hours of overtime, but the extra pay I earned was based on the same uneven scale.

The question Romney's campaign couldn't answer is a question of fairness and whether American workers have a level playing field on which everyone has the same opportunity to get ahead.

I know Obama believes in those values. As the grandson of a woman who worked in a bank long after she hit the glass ceiling -- and who was paid less than the men she trained -- he believes equal pay is an essential right. As the father of two girls, he cares deeply about making sure the work force they'll join one day isn't slanted against them.

But I have no idea where Romney stands -- and from the sound of it, neither do those closest to him.

What we do know about whom and what Romney supports is even more unsettling than his silence on this issue. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker recently took away citizens' rights to fight workplace discrimination. Romney called him a "hero" and a "man of courage."

He'd also repeal Obama's health reforms and bring back the discriminatory days when being a woman was considered a pre-existing condition, which means insurance companies could charge us more than men for the same coverage or deny it to us altogether.

When combined with pay inequality, Romney's promises would mean women would earn less income and then be forced to pay more for basic health care. That's devastating for our families and the economic security of the middle class.

Anyone who wants to be president of the United States shouldn't have to think about whether hardworking, responsible middle-class families deserve the opportunity to succeed. We know all too well what it's like to hear silence when we fight for fairness -- and we've heard enough.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lilly Ledbetter.

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