Maine’s Republican governor has told employers to ignore provisions of a popular voter-approved minimum wage hike—an announcement that pay advocates are calling “wage theft.”
Gov. Paul LePage announced last week the state Department of Labor “will not bring enforcement actions against any employer who fails to comply” with certain elements of a statewide minimum wage increase that goes into effect January 7.
“Governor LePage has now gone beyond ignoring the will of Maine voters and is flat-out encouraging employers to commit wage theft,” Mainers for Fair Wages’ Campaign Manager Amy Halsted told the Maine Beacon.
State Commissioner of Labor Jeanne Paquette said the temporary halt on enforcement is needed to work out complexities in the wage hike. Employers, however, must still comply with the key provision of the minimum wage law, which increases the hourly rate to $9 from $7.50.
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“As we have seen with the federal overtime-exempt rule announced this year, employers did a lot of work to comply, and then the injunction put everything on hold, creating confusion for both workers and employers,” Paquette said. “We want to avoid a similar situation under state law.”
Raising the minimum wage proved popular with Mainers in November’s general election. Fifty-five percent of voters approved the statewide initiative to increase the state minimum pay rate to $12 by 2020.
LePage’s moratorium on enforcement of the new law will run from January 7 to January 31. It applies only to certain employees: tipped workers, who make a lower minimum wage, and employees who are exempt from overtime. As for other workers, the governor’s announcement instructs employers to pay the new statewide base rate, which rises to $9 next month.
The enforcement moratorium marks the second time in recent weeks the Republican governor has tried to undermine provisions of the voter-approved wage hike.
LePage last month sent a letter to state lawmakers asking them to change the measure by phasing in wage increases over a longer period, eliminating the automatic cost-of-living increase, and restoring the lower base wage for people who work for tips. Maine’s minimum wage for tipped workers is $3.75, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
LePage, a vehement critic of the minimum wage ballot measure, has argued that lifting the minimum wage would saddle senior citizen with higher prices at stores and the supermarket. He said in October that the measure’s backers should be jailed, arguing they are guilty of “attempted murder.”
A study of the Maine wage increase by the University of California, Berkeley suggested the hike would bump up consumer prices by less than 1 percent over a four-year period. Research by the Maine Center for Economic Policy found no negative consequences to businesses or employment from increasing the base wage rate to $12 per hour.