AUGUSTA — State Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, said she was saddened and disappointed by an email message sent in return to her solicitation for a campaign donation recently.

Cain, who is running for the U.S. Congress said pay equity for women in Maine should be a top issue for candidates.

In her campaign message, sent to potential donors,  Cain points out that women in Maine are paid far less than their male counterparts when doing the same work. Her message asked for a donation of $8 and noted that women earn only about 80 cents for every dollar their male co-workers earn.

“Big Frigging deal,” wrote Jeff O’Neill, the president of IBEW Local 1057 in Baileyville, ” . . . men pay for 95 percent of the s— women have, looks good to me.”

O’Neill later apologized saying he was simply frustrated with an overflowing inbox that he felt was being spammed by Cain’s campaign among others.

He said the content of his message was not a reflection of what he believed.

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“I wasn’t making any political statement or trying to be ignorant,” O’Neill said by phone. “I was just frustrated, I was trying to say, ‘Well, let’s see if they want to send me more or keep sending them to me.’ It’s pretty basic and simple.”

O’Neill said the same morning he sent messages to others he felt were spamming his inbox, including Bank of America.

As a local union president, he supports people being paid a fair wage for the work they do regardless of their sex or race or any other designation, O’Neill said.

“I work at a union shop and everybody gets paid equal,” O’Neill said. “Women, men, minorities, whatever.” 

He said some people may read more into his email than they should and offered an apology for those who were offended.

“I guess I stirred up some emotion and I apologize to anybody I offended but that was not my intent by any means,” O’Neill said.

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Cain, who is among the candidates seeking the open seat in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District being left vacant by U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat who is running for governor.  

In her message Cain said pay inequality impacts Maine’s working families — especially those headed by single, working mothers and elderly women.

“It not only restricts opportunity for women but also limits ways mothers can provide for their children,” the message read in part. “More Maine children are raised in poverty while more senior women find it harder to retire.”

Cain said when she read O’Neill’s message she was troubled and disappointed and reminded of how difficult attitudes and mindsets around gender equality are to change.

“Pay equity is not simply a woman’s issue, it’s a family issue,” Cain said. “I was saddened when I heard about the email, but I remain focused on the needs of middle-class families in Maine, just like I have been for the last nine years in Augusta.”

She said many Maine families are struggling economically, due in no small part to pay inequity for women.

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“With middle-class families facing difficult times across Maine and the country, this is a conversation we need to have out in the open,” she said.

Cain said she would continue to work towards improving pay equity in Maine and the U.S.

Besides Cain, Democrats seeking Michaud’s seat include state Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash and Alden Smith of Sangerville. Republicans seeking the seat include state Sen. Mike Thibodeau of Winterport, former state Senate President Kevin Raye of Eastport and former state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin.

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