Restaurant workers in Maine might not receive the full paychecks they’re due in January, based on new enforcement guidelines announced by the state’s Governor Paul LePage on Wednesday. In November, Maine’s voters approved a ballot measure that will increase the tipped minimum wage (a lower hourly wage for workers who get tips) from $3.75 to $5 in 2017 with an increase of $1 each year until it’s essentially equal to the standard minimum in 2020.
The new minimum wage law is slated to go into effect on January 7. However, as the Maine Beacon reports, Governor LePage has told the Department of Labor not to enforce the law until 30 days after the new requirements take effect.
Citing forthcoming legislation to roll back the minimum wage law supported by voters, LePage says in a statement, “It is entirely appropriate for the Department of Labor to take time to help employers and workers understand and comply with the law without taking them to task.”
The announcement spurred condemnation from fair labor advocates and lawmakers on the left. “Governor LePage has now gone beyond ignoring the will of Maine voters and is flat-out encouraging employers to commit wage theft,” says Mainers for Fair Wages campaign manager Amy Halsted. The organization has also launched a petition demanding that lawmakers support of the will of the voters.
While the decree means the Department of Labor won’t be enforcing the law, the Governor’s Office does note that “employers may be subject to a private right of action by an employee who believes she or he has been harmed by the employers’ actions; such lawsuits may result in the award of back wages, treble damages, attorney’s fees and court costs to an affected worker.”
Maine was among four states to pass measures increasing minimum wages in the November 2016 election. Governor LePage has a history of antagonizing supporters of a higher minimum wage. In response to Portland, Maine, Mayor Michael Brennan’s wage increase proposal last year, LePage quipped that the city should try it and see how many restaurants fail. For their part, Maine restaurant owners were also critical of any increases to the state’s tipped minimum wage.
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