Maine workers fight to protect minimum wage increase
More than 150 workers from across Maine visited the State House on Thursday to ask legislators a simple question: do you stand with working families, or with large corporations and a wealthy few? The lobby day, organized by the Maine AFL-CIO, had an agenda focused on a handful of basic economic fairness issues, including protecting the minimum wage increase passed by voters in November.
“Working people deserve to make more than a decent living, we deserve a decent life. Its time Maine’s economic policies put people and families first, instead of the interests of a handful of wealthy and well-connected corporate CEOs,” said Maine AFL-CIO President Cynthia Phinney. “We think the priorities for the Legislature are obvious. Legislators should be laser-focused on improving wages, tackling inequality and providing jobs and economic security for Maine’s hard working families.”
The minimum wage referendum, which passed with more votes than any citizen initiative in Maine history in November, is under attack on a number of fronts. 16 bills seek to roll back various aspects of the increase, and eight Democrats have signed on to attempts to cut the subminimum wage for tipped workers, which went from $3.75 to $5 an hour in January and is slated to gradually increase over the next decade under the current law until it reaches the full minimum wage.
The restaurant industry lobby has fought hard against the minimum wage law, including spreading misinformation and fear about the effects of tipped wage increases on rates of tipping. In other states that have higher tipped wages, restaurant servers make the same or higher tips as Maine, but can also depend on a more steady base wage from their employer.
“I’ve worked the exact same job, for the exact same company, Applebees, with the exact same menu prices and California paid me $10.50 plus tips and Maine paid me $3.75 plus tips. There was no difference in the average percentage of what people tipped me. This speaks volumes,” said Ali Monceaux, a restaurant server who spoke with lawmakers on Thursday. “Because of the subminimum tipped wage, my entire financial stability comes from the gratuity of my customers, which can be 0%.”
The workers also lobbied against attempts to roll back collective bargaining protections (LD 65 & LD 66) and in favor of a state budget that includes continuing revenue sharing (LD 133) at the historic level of 5% in order to fund local services like police and fire protection, otherwise paid for solely through municipal property taxes.
Photo: Restaurant server Ali Monceaux speaks at a press conference in the State House Hall of Flags.
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