Minimum wage hike, equal pay bills fail in Louisiana Senate

By MELINDA DESLATTE, Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana won’t be joining 29 other states in paying a minimum wage higher than the federally-set rate, as Gov. John Bel Edwards saw one of his signature legislative efforts fail for a third year in a row.

The Senate on Tuesday refused to hike the rate from the $7.25-per-hour federal level to $8 per hour in 2019 and $8.50 a year later.

Seventeen senators voted for the bill by New Orleans Sen. Troy Carter, a Democrat. Twenty-one senators opposed it.

“What I’m asking today is a very modest increase, $1.25 over two years,” Carter told his colleagues. He added: “How could you possibly keep up when the cost of living is escalating but your wage level is stagnant?”

No one spoke against the proposal during the evening debate, but the measure was opposed by business groups who say it could force them to shrink their workforces or discourage expansions.

Carter tweaked the measure to strip the civil penalties and to apply the wage increase only to businesses with 25 or more employees, but the changes didn’t pick up enough votes for passage.

“Not advancing this legislation is a step backwards for our families and our children who live in poverty but want to work,” the governor said in a statement pledging to continue pushing the pay boost.

Edwards, who campaigned on the wage increase when he ran for governor in 2015, also saw other pay proposals he championed rejected Tuesday.

Senators snubbed measures by Sen. J.P. Morrell that would have:

  • Extended an existing equal pay law that bans state agencies from paying unequal wages to employees of different genders for the same job to also cover any business that gets a state contract.
  • Prohibited employers from taking action against workers who talk about their pay, a move supporters say would help achieve more equal salaries.

Morrell said the equal pay law extension would address the state’s privatization of many of its services. He noted Louisiana has the largest pay gap in the nation, with women on average earning 65 cents for every dollar a man makes.

Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican, described her first year working as an engineer for Shell in a “very male-dominated field” in the 1980s. She talked about a supervisor who refused to shake her hand and criticized women as a problem in the industry.

But Hewitt said new equal pay laws aren’t the answer to closing the pay gap.

“What we need are more women. We need more women in higher-paying careers,” she said.

Sen. Danny Martiny, a Kenner Republican, said Morrell’s proposal would create “a lawyer’s bonanza,” creating new ways for lawyers to sue businesses.

Morrell replied that lawmakers argued that three years ago when they enacted the equal pay law covering state agencies — and that didn’t happen.

“Are the women in your district and the women of this state worth protecting? That’s the fundamental question,” said Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, a New Orleans Democrat, urging passage.

Senators voted 20-18 against the measure. They also rejected Morrell’s bill against “pay secrecy” in a 23-15 vote against it.