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Lawmakers Compare Labor Law Enforcement to Racial Profiling & Nazi Gestapo

Andy O’Brien
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Last week, tensions exploded as Labor Housing Committee members voted on party lines to pass LD 2184, which would increase penalties on employers who commit wage theft, worker misclassification and other wage and hour violations against workers. Currently, penalties are so low that they don’t effectively deter potential violators. Based on information provided by the Maine Center for Economic Policy,employers who the Maine Bureau of Labor Standards found to have violated wage and hour laws paid an average penalty of just $9.61 per violation.

LD 2184 would account for employer size, its track record of violations and the seriousness of the offense when assessing fines. Bureau of Labor Standards Director Jason Moyer-Lee told committee members earlier this month that the reason these penalties are so low is because under current rules the penalty calculation starts with the minimum allowable penalty that a court could award under the statute, and then they may increase the penalty for various reasons.

“This means that fines — even for serious violations — tend to be very low, and much lower than is required by statute,” said Moyer-Lee.

LD 2184 would  require that penalties for labor law breakers start at the highest level instead of the lowest.

During a heated exchange at the work session for LD 2184 last Friday, two Republican lawmakers on the committee went so far as to compare the proposed legislation to racial profiling and surveillance by the Gestapo, the secret police of Nazi Germany, according to the Maine Beacon. Sen. Matt Pouliot (R-Kennebec) alleged that Moyer-Lee is biased against employers for proposing a bill to hold them accountable for breaking the law.

“He just really seemed gleeful that he was going to be empowered to go after people now,” Pouliot said of Moyer-Lee. “It is concerning that we may pass legislation which would really empower individuals to kind of act like the Gestapo and go after people.”

The Beacon reported that shortly after Sen. Mike Tipping (D-Penobscot), the committee co-chair, reminded Pouliot not to impugn Moyer-Lee’s motives, Rep. Gary Drinkwater (R-Milford) equated a provision to allow the BLS to investigate employment sectors with a track record of labor violations to racial profiling.

“To me, that says profiling,” Drinkwater told the committee. “We have taken a stand in the states to say profiling is illegal.”

Tipping explained to Drinkwater that it is illegal to profile protected classes of people, based on racial, ethnic, religious reasons, but it is not illegal to proactively investigate areas where laws are likely to be broken.

“There are police checks on sobriety around concerts. That is not illegal profiling,” Tipping told Drinkwater. “And I think those kinds of references are not helpful to this conversation.”

The exchange is an example of how forcefully corporations and their allies in government resist any efforts to hold businesses accountable for breaking the law. During the public hearing on the bill a lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce suggested that wage and hour violators should be diverted into some sort of treatment program instead of paying fines.