Will Maine restaurants divest from Trump and LePage?
Progressive activists are asking local restaurants to cancel their membership with the Maine Restaurant Association, a branch of the National Restaurant Association, following a series of controversial actions by the conservative lobby group, including backing Governor Paul LePage’s attempt to roll back Maine’s minimum wage law and lobbying hard for Andrew Puzder, President Donald Trump’s initial nominee to head the U.S. Department of Labor.
A list of the organization’s member restaurants and their contact information has been posted along with a call to action asking them to stop paying dues to a group backing the policy agendas of Trump and LePage.
In a letter sent to Senator Susan Collins last week, the MRA/NRA endorsed and praised Puzder in glowing terms. In an article in the Portland Press Herald the next day, MRA President Steve Hewins dismissed criticisms from some of his own board members doubled down on Trump’s nominee (even as Puzder himself was preparing to withdraw from consideration after being dogged by allegations of domestic abuse), saying “I don’t mind taking heat for a decision that I made.”
“While many MRA/NRA members are big chains, others are local businesses with owners who care what their customers think,” reads the call to action posted along with the list of MRA members. “So please politely ask them to end their support for Trump and LePage’s anti-minimum wage, anti-worker agenda by cancelling their membership (or thank them if they already did).”
Jonas Werner, the owner of Azure Cafe in Freeport, who himself recently quit the MRA board, said that the MRA’s public stances don’t necessarily reflect the views of many member restaurants, who opposed the Puzder endorsement and other anti-worker actions taken by the organization.
“I think the minimum wage is a good example,” said Werner. “I think that’s one of the conversations that the public doesn’t know that we have and how many board members support ideas like increasing the minimum wage.”
Last year, more than sixty restaurants, including a handful of MRA members, broke with the lobby group and backed the minimum wage increase referendum, which included a gradual increase in the minimum base pay for service workers, like restaurant servers, who receive tips.
Under the new law, wages for these tipped workers, which have been stagnant at $3.75 an hour for the past eight years, increased to $5 an hour in January and will continue to be raised on an annual basis over the next ten years until eventually reaching the full minimum wage.
Despite passing by a wide margin in November, the new minimum wage law is already under attack. Restaurant owners have continued to spread false claims about the increases hurting restaurant workers and, with the MRA’s backing, Governor LePage has put rolling back the law and cutting the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers at the center of his legislative agenda.
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