Gov. LePage orders Department of Labor not to enforce minimum wage law

Gov. LePage orders Department of Labor not to enforce minimum wage law

In a media statement released on Wednesday, Maine Governor Paul LePage announced that his administration will refuse to enforce a portion of the minimum wage law passed by referendum in November. According to the announcement, the Maine Department of Labor “will not bring enforcement actions against any employer who fails to comply” with an increase from $3.75 to $5 an hour in the base wage paid to workers, like restaurant servers, who also receive tips.

These employers would still be in violation of state law during the period of non-enforcement in January and could face civil penalties, as LePage can’t unilaterally roll back the minimum wage increase, which passed by a double-digit margin.

The governor’s actions earned quick condemnation from advocates for raising the minimum wage and Democratic leaders.

“Governor LePage has now gone beyond ignoring the will of Maine voters and is flat-out encouraging employers to commit wage theft,” said Mainers for Fair Wages campaign manager Amy Halsted, who led the effort to pass the minimum wage increase. “Refusing to enforce the minimum wage law, and especially the increase in the base wage for tipped workers from $3.75 to $5 an hour, is a slap in the face to tens of thousands of Mainers who are working hard and too often struggling to afford heat, food and medicine.”

Halsted noted that this refusal to enforce the law is the latest in a series of attacks from LePage and his allies in the corporate lobby and restaurant industry against increasing in the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, which has remained $3.75 for the last eight years. Most recently they’ve spread a series of false rumors that increasing the base wage for servers will somehow reduce their tips.

“If you work a job as a restaurant server, you should be receiving a $5 base wage plus your full tips as of January 7th. Anyone who says otherwise is lying,” said Halsted.

Democratic Senate leader Troy Jackson said the announcement means the governor is “refusing to his job, which is to enforce the state’s laws — not just the laws he likes.”

“The Department of Labor has a responsibility to protect workers’ rights. That includes the right to receive the full wage they are owed,” said Jackson. “To tell employers they won’t bring charges against companies that don’t follow the law is a gross abdication of the department’s responsibility to Maine workers.”

Enforcement of tipped wage provisions are particularly important given the restaurant industry’s long history of wage violations. A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute called it an “epidemic” that costs restaurant workers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Minimum wage supporters have begun circulating a petition asking legislators to respect the will of the voters and reject LePage’s attempts to roll back the minimum wage increase.

Photo via Andi Parkinson.

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