Recently, Maine’s controversial Republican Governor Paul LePage declared war on working families, calling for business owners to ignore provisions of a popular voter-approved minimum wage increase.
Advocates for the expansion are calling LePage’s announcement “wage theft.”
Days before Christmas, Lepage announced that the state Department of Labor “will not bring enforcement actions against any employer who fails to comply” with specific parts of a statewide minimum wage hike that goes into effect on January 7. Mainers for Fair Wages Campaign Manager Amy Halsted is appalled by the governor’s flagrant disregard for the will of the people. She told the Maine Beacon:
Governor LePage has now gone beyond ignoring the will of Maine voters and is flat-out encouraging employers to commit wage theft.
State Commissioner of Labor Jeanne Paquette claims that the temporary moratorium on enforcement is necessary for the government to figure out the complexities of the wage increase. However, employers are still required to comply with a key component of the law which raises the hourly rate from $7.50 to $9.00.
As we have seen with the federal overtime-exempt rule announced this year, employers did a lot of work to comply, and then the injunction put everything on hold, creating confusion for both workers and employers. We want to avoid a similar situation under state law.
The statewide initiative was approved by Maine voters on the November 8 general election ballot with a 55 percent approval, and it is set to increase the hourly wage to $12 by 2020.
LePage’s stop on the enforcement of the new law would last from January 7 to January 31. The enforcement moratorium targets specific employees, namely tipped workers who make lower than minimum wage and staff who are exempt from overtime. As for other employees, the governor reluctantly calls for employers to pay the new statewide $9 wage.
Since Maine voters approved the initiative, the governor has worked tirelessly to undermine and weaken key provisions of the new law.
Following the vote, LePage sent a letter to state lawmakers urging them to modify the measure by phasing in the wage hikes over a longer period. He also wants them to remove the automatic cost-of-living increase, and keep the lower base salary in place for people who work for tips. Currently, Maine’s tipped workers make only $3.75 per hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
LePage also lashed out at the measure, arguing that lifting the minimum wage would blindside seniors with higher retail and grocery prices. He stated in October that those who supported the bill should be jailed, insisting that they were guilty of “attempted murder.”
However, the University of California studied the Maine wage increase and concluded that the hike would only increase consumer prices by a margin of less than one percent over a period of four years. Meanwhile, research conducted by the Maine Center for Economic Policy found that increasing the minimum wage to $12 per hour offered no adverse consequences to businesses or employment.
Once again LePage and the Republican Party are trying to nickel and dime working families while showing their contempt for the will of the people.
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