Breen’s equal pay bill dies after GOP-controlled Senate upholds veto

Posted: July 20, 2017 | Senator Breen

AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate on Thursday voted to uphold Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill to fight the gender wage gap by requiring employers to pay fair, market-based wages regardless of their workers’ previous pay rates.

The measure had previously passed by a vote of 22-13, with five Republicans joining all 17 Democrats in support of the bill. On Friday, in a 20-11 vote, the effort to override the veto fell short of the two-thirds threshold necessary to enact the law over the governor’s objection.

The bill — LD 1259, “An Act Regarding Pay Equality” — was sponsored by Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth. It would have prohibited employers from asking asking prospective employees how much they earned at their previous or current job, and would guarantee workers the right to discuss wages without disciplinary action or retaliation by their employer.

“This is a sad day for women and for supporters of equality in Maine,” said Sen. Breen. “What will it take for politicians of all stripes to not simply pay lip service to equality, but to actually support policies that will can make equal pay a reality? This bill was based on a premise that should never have been controversial: Workers should be paid a market-based salary that reflects their education, experience, qualifications, credentials and work ethic, regardless of whether a previous job underpaid them because of their gender — or any other reason.”

Maine women earn an average of just 78 cents for every dollar earned by Maine men. According to data released last month by the National Partnership for Women and Families, Maine women earn just 78 cents for every dollar earned by Maine men. Annually, that’s an average wage gap of $10,093. All told, Maine women who are employed full-time lose nearly $3 billion every single year to the wage gap.

The “previous salary question,” perpetuates the wage gap. The answer to that question can result in a lowball salary offer well below market value. By basing future salaries on previous wages (which may have been discriminatory), employers perpetuate the earnings divide between the sexes. This practice is an albatross around women’s necks, limiting potential lifetime earnings.

LD 1259 would have charged the Maine Human Rights Commission with enforcing the new prohibition on inquiring about previous salaries, just as it is charged with enforcing other anti-discrimination laws in Maine. Putting this provision under the auspices of the MHRC would also have meant other protected classes could also seek relief from income discrimination under the Maine Human Rights Act.

The bill is now dead, but Sen. Breen said she will continue to fight for equal pay.