Eight Democrats join Gov. LePage in minimum wage rollback attempt

Eight Democrats join Gov. LePage in minimum wage rollback attempt

It appears Democrats in the Maine Legislature are splitting on the minimum wage, with at least six Democratic representatives and two senators breaking with their party to co-sponsor legislation to roll back part of the minimum wage increase just passed by statewide referendum.

In January, tipped workers, like restaurant servers, received their first raise in eight years, with their base wage going from $3.75 to $5 an hour. Under the new law, they’ll continue to see gradual increases over the next ten years until the subminimum tipped wage reaches the full minimum wage.

Seven states already have no subminimum wage for tipped workers, and many more have higher tipped wages than Maine.

Governor Paul LePage, however, vehemently opposes raising the tipped wage and has railed against the voter-approved minimum wage increase at nearly every public event and media appearance in the months since the election.

The Democrats who are co-sponsoring Republican bills to implement the minimum wage cut are:

For some tipped workers, the minimum wage increase has already begun to have a positive effect.

“It makes a huge difference to make that little bit more an hour. It makes it more possible to support yourself and support your family” said Liz McArthur, a restaurant server and single mother living in Lewiston.

“The other night when I went into work I actually made no money because it was icy out and no one came in except one table and the other server got the table. Right now with tips half the time I don’t even get paid the minimum wage per hour, the $7.50,” said McArthur, who supports her three-year-old daughter and is working her way through nursing school waiting tables.

The minimum wage increase passed with more than 420,000 votes in November, more than any previous citizen initiative in Maine history. More Mainers cast ballots on the issue than voted for President. The question stated clearly the dates and amounts of the increase to the tipped wage.

“The median hourly wage for a waiter or waitress in Maine is just $9.06, including tips. They are twice as likely to live in poverty and three times as likely to access food stamps to feed their families,” said Amy Halsted, campaign manager for Mainers for Fair Wages, the coalition that supported the minimum wage referendum. “These legislators need to hear from us right now about not betraying the will of the voters and not cutting the minimum wage.”

The subminimum wage increase is especially important for women, who make up 79% of Maine’s tipped wage workforce.

“Seven states — Alaska, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — have no subminimum tipped wage. They have strong restaurant industries, menu prices are not higher than in other states, and customers haven’t stopped tipping,” said Maine Women’s Lobby executive director Eliza Townsend in a recent Bangor Daily News op-ed. “Creating one fair wage would mean that a woman’s earnings would depend on one predictable factor, the number of hours she works, rather than on the generosity of her customers.”

“No legislator should support cutting the minimum wage, but for Democrats in particular to try to betray the voters and attempt to cut the subminimum tipped wage after leaders like President Obama, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and women’s and workers’ rights groups have worked so hard to increase it is absolutely unacceptable,” said Halsted.

Photo via Andi Parkinson.

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