For most of this year, Maine’s pro-business governor has been trading legislative barbs with activists pushing an array of new mandates that would do everything from boost workers’ pay to determine how shifts get scheduled.
Gov. Paul LePage is championing a state ban that would stop cities and towns from passing their own minimum wage laws, reflecting concerns by business owners of a community-by-community patchwork of competing wage regulations. His efforts will be challenged going forward as municipalities look to increase wages on their own.
Already the City Council in Portland has authorized a petition that will let voters decide if Maine’s largest city should mandate a $15/hour rate, which would increase incrementally beginning with a jump from its current $7.50 to $10.10 next January.
But even if LePage successfully lowers the boom on local minimum wage initiatives, he faces another challenge from a budding, statewide campaign.
A group called Mainers for Fair Wages is collecting signatures to put a question on the 2016 state ballot, one that would boost the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020.
Meantime, Gov. LePage’s push to overhaul the state’s tax code ran into significant opposition from anti-business groups in Augusta, the state capitol. Just before the end of the fiscal year, LePage vetoed the budget the Legislature passed, because it calls for increased spending while eliminating most of his welfare reform proposals. But, the Legislature overrode the veto, leaving their $6.7 billion package on the books.
This as advocates eye initiatives modeled after San Francisco’s Retail Workers Bill of Rights. Two bills that worked their way through the Legislature this past session: L.D. 1101, which called for adopting the entire San Francisco workers’ rights bill, imposing detailed regulations on employee hiring, scheduling, promotion, payment and benefits. For Maine franchise owners, that would mean far more than just being on the hook to provide two weeks’ notice before changing an employee’s shift – and paying a penalty if they don’t.
L.D. 1101 also guaranteed the part-timers the same pay and access to time off as full-timers. In fact, before hiring more full-time workers, a franchise owner first has to approach his part-timers – in writing no less – to offer them more hours.
A more moderate version introduced in the last session, L.D. 1217, would simply require businesses to give two weeks’ notice before shift changes or face paying a penalty.
Those pro-labor initiatives are a stark contrast to LePage’s efforts to eliminate the mandated payment of union dues as a prerequisite to getting or keeping a job. Right to Work – as the legislation is known – is the law in 25 states. LePage tried making Maine the 26th, but the measure fell flat in Augusta. Still, the governor says he will continue campaigning against legislators in both parties who oppose him.
If it sounds like LePage understands the challenges small business owners face, it’s because he spent 15 years as general manager of a 14-store discount chain called Marden’s. As the state’s chief executive, he’s sticking to his hardscrabble roots to support the state’s business community, which also means entering the fight over the food labeling.
Some Maine lawmakers want to jumpstart the state’s now dormant GMO labeling requirements. The 2013 law, which requires food retailers to slap on labels identifying GMO ingredients, was purposely delayed until similar legislation is passed in other Northeastern states. While Vermont and Connecticut have passed GMO labeling bills, Massachusetts and New Hampshire have yet to take the plunge.
LePage signed the bill in 2014, but members of his administration have spoken out against Maine adopting regulations on genetically modified organisms before other states.
Such a move could wind up costing Maine consumers and restaurants more, with some food companies likely to stop shipping their products to Maine to avoid the cost of GMO labeling.
“What is likely to happen is that it will shift the burden to small businesses, who will inevitably have to charge more for any product and service,” said Ben Litalien, founder and principal of FranchiseWell LLV, a consulting firm.