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Sun., Oct. 21, 2012

Fair pay skirts the bind

Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” line launched a barrage of office product jokes that obscured something important. He didn’t answer the question, which was about women getting equal pay for equal work.

It reminded me of Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s “Women’s Day in the Capitol” two years ago, which amounted to an “attagirl” for the important work they do. Spokesman-Review reporter Betsy Z. Russell toted up the number of agency heads at the time and found that 36 percent of them were women. That’s a higher percentage than Gov. Romney’s binders produced in Massachusetts.

But, again, that’s not the point, because Russell also discovered that male state agency directors were paid an average salary of $109,658. Their female counterparts were paid an average of $88,681. When Pam Lowe was messily fired as the head of the Transportation Department, her replacement, a man, was hired at $22,000 a year more.

That’s the issue, and it’s pervasive. Studies show that on average men are paid more than women when doing the same work with the same level of experience.

In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which makes it easier for women workers to seek redress when they’re victims of paycheck discrimination. Republicans, including Reps. Paul Ryan and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, voted against the bill en masse. They said it would trigger a tsunami of litigation, because the clock on the statute of limitations is reset after each paycheck. Before the law was passed, the clock started after the initial act of inequity. If employers could keep discrimination under wraps for 180 days, they were in the clear.

That’s what happened to Ledbetter, of Alabama, who was slipped a note that revealed she was the lowest-paid area manager at Goodyear. All of the others were men; some had less experience. When she complained, her bosses transferred her to a job lifting tires.

So let’s circle back to Romney. He was asked this week whether he supported the law. As usual, his campaign said one thing (he wouldn’t have signed the bill), walked it back and settled on this position: He won’t repeal it.

Good. And if employers truly fear lawsuits, there’s an easy solution. Pay women equally, and keep the proof in binders filled with pay stubs.

Pandering at the pump. At the last debate, it was depressing to hear both presidential candidates throw down over who would heat up the planet the fastest. No energy policy is complete without taking global warming into consideration, but after two debates, neither Barack “Clean Coal” Obama nor “E-Mitt” Romney has even mentioned greenhouse gases.

When asked if they could play a role in lowering gas prices, both candidates said yes. That’s Sarah Palin crazy talk, and they both know it. Regardless of where it’s extracted, oil is sold on the global market. About all presidents can do is open up the nation’s strategic reserves and flood the U.S. market temporarily, but that would be irresponsible.

Julia Trigg Crawford is a Texan who is fighting condemnation of her ranch land to make way for a TransCanada pipeline. She told the Associated Press, “Most people believe that as this product gets to the Houston area and is refined, it’s probably then going to be shipped outside the United States. So if this product is not going to wind up as gasoline or diesel fuel in your vehicles or mine, then what kind of energy independence is that creating for us?”

Those Texans know their oil. Energy independence is a pipe dream if you’re banking on crude.

To get back to that question on presidents lowering gas prices, consider this from a review conducted by the Associated Press last spring:

“If more domestic oil drilling worked as politicians say, you’d now be paying about $2 a gallon for gasoline. Instead, you’re paying the highest prices ever for March.”

AP drove the point home by drilling deeper: “A statistical analysis of 36 years of monthly, inflation-adjusted gasoline prices and U.S. domestic oil production … shows no statistical correlation between how much oil comes out of U.S. wells and the price at the pump.”

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.

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