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May 15, 2017

Equal pay bill heads to Senate with Labor Committee endorsement

A bill to combat the gender wage gap is headed to the Senate for an initial vote with the support of a majority of the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee.

The bill — LD 1259, "An Act Regarding Pay Equality" — would prohibit employers from 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. The committee voted 6-5 Thursday to recommend that the Maine Legislature enact the bill.

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. 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, according to that study.

State Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, says her bill takes aim at that income disparity by banning the "previous salary question" that perpetuate the wage gap, since the answer to that question can result in a lowball salary offer well below market value. By basing future salaries on previous wages (which also might have been discriminatory), employers perpetuate the earnings divide between the sexes.

"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," Breen said. "I'm hopeful that the Legislature will see the common sense of this bill and pass it into law, not only for the hundreds of thousands of Maine women who are underpaid, but for all workers that deserve fair compensation."

LD 1259 would charge 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 also means that other protected classes could also seek relief from income discrimination under the Maine Human Rights Act, according to a release from the Senate Democratic Office.

The Maine Senate is likely to take up Sen. Breen's bill this week. It also faces votes in the Maine House of Representatives.

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