Legislature splits on proposals affecting women's pay

The Nebraska Legislature (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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March 14, 2019 - 3:23pm

Two bills dealing primarily with women’s pay met different fates in the Nebraska Legislature Thursday.

The first of the two bills was Sen. Megan Hunt’s proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage for tipped workers, like waiters and waitresses. Supporters say about 70 percent of tipped workers are women. That minimum wage is currently $2.13 an hour.

But Sen. Steve Halloran, himself a restaurant owner, said state law ensures restaurant workers do better than that. “In those rare occasions where the tipped wage and tip income do not equal the minimum wage, the employer is required to make up the difference, so tipped employees are guaranteed the same minimum wage as all other employees, and usually earn far more,” Halloran said.

Hunt said restaurants are not following the law. “We keep hearing that no restaurant worker earns less than $9 an hour. That’s untrue. It would be a true statement to reword that and say it is illegal in Nebraska for restaurant workers to earn less than $9 an hour,” Hunt said.

Sen. Mike Hilgers said raising the wage won’t solve the problem if the law’s being ignored. “If the goal is to ensure that employers are actually doing what they’re supposed to do, (it) seems to me the way to ensure that is by actually strengthening the enforcement mechanisms of the current law,” Hilgers said.

Senators hit the three-hour time limit for debate without voting on the bill. Hunt told her colleagues she was disappointed. “You’re all going to get off scot-free, not having to be accountable to Nebraskans, to your constituents, about where you stand on raising the sub-minimum wage from $2.13 an hour,” she said.

Speaker Jim Scheer, who instituted the three-hour rule, has said it saves time on bills that were going to be filibustered anyway and might not reach a vote.

The next proposal up did better. It was Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks’ proposal to prohibit employers from firing employees simply for discussing how much they’re paid.

Brooks said she’s trying to close the pay gap between women and men. “American women earn 80 percent of what their male counterparts make for full-time, year-round work. The pay disparity is even worse in Nebraska, as full-time working Nebraska women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men,” Pansing Brooks said.

Sen. Sue Crawford talked about how the bill could help. “Allowing workers to talk to one another about the wages they receive is an important tool for women to know if they’re receiving less wages, so they can know to ask for more,” Crawford said.

No one spoke against the bill, which got first round approval on a vote of 27-3.



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