Minimum wage law mostly survives Maine legislature, but tipped wages cut

Minimum wage law mostly survives Maine legislature, but tipped wages cut

Most of Maine’s new minimum wage law survived a series of repeal attempts in the Maine House of Representatives Tuesday afternoon, just seven months after more than 420,000 voters approved Question 4, raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour this year and to $12 an hour by 2020. Measures to cut the overall minimum wage, eliminate cost of living increases in future years and cut wages for younger workers were all voted down.

A bill to repeal the more gradual increases to the subminimum wage for tipped workers passed, however, and will likely become law.

“We are proud that the votes today confirmed that one in three Maine workers will get a raise, including the parents of 63,000 Maine children,” said Amy Halsted, campaign manager for Mainers for Fair Wages. “It is unfortunate, however, that legislators voted to cut wages for tipped workers. So far this year we’ve seen restaurant workers making more money each week, more restaurants opening and 600 more jobs created in the restaurant and hotel industries, exactly the opposite of what opponents of increasing the tipped wage predicted. It speaks to the power of the restaurant lobby and the fear they have spread that legislators were willing to betray a vote of the people and undo a law that is working so well.”

The bill to cut future tipped wage increases passed 110-37 while bills to eliminate indexing, reduce the minimum wage to the New England average and institute a lower wage for younger workers were defeated on mostly party-line votes, 79-69, 79-67 and 83-65, respectively.

The restaurant industry and other corporate lobbies were united behind the tipped wage repeal, but dozens of restaurant servers and owners spoke in favor of the wage increase in testimony on the proposal, noting that tipped workers make a median wage of just $9.38 an hour and that both food service industries and servers’ wages are higher in the seven states that currently have no subminimum tipped wage.

Both the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald editorialized against the repeal, urging lawmakers to respect the will of the voters.

“How can we as legislators with a straight face tell the voters that their votes actually count when, hand in hand with special interests, we are getting ready to ignore their will?” asked Rep. Kent Ackley, an independent from Monmouth in a floor speech on Tuesday.

The minimum wage law is expected to increase incomes for more than 181,000 workers when fully implemented.

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