March 30, 2011- Far from places like Ohio and Wisconsin, Maine has become a new battleground in the labor fight. Gov. Paul LePage (R) recently sparked the anger of the union community by ordering a mural depicting workers throughout the state's history removed from the Department of Labor. Now, Republican members of the state legislature are attempting to loosen child labor laws that the community fought hard to put into place.
The minimum wage in Maine is $7.50 an hour, and there is no training or subminimum wage for students. But under a new piece of legislation introduced in the state's House of Representatives, employers would be able to pay anyone under the age of 20 as little as $5.25 an hour for their first 180 days on the job.
The bill, LD 1346, also eliminates the maximum number of hours a minor 16 years of age or older can work on a school day and allows a minor under the age of 16 to work up to four hours on a school day during hours when school is not in session.
With Maine's unemployment above 7 percent, state Rep. Paul Gilbert (D) wonders why Republicans are pushing to create a pool of cheap labor when so many people are begging for jobs.
"If we had a shortage of job applicants or potential workers, then you could look at other populations to ease that strain on the workforce," Gilbert told The Huffington Post. "But we don't have that right now. We have an excess of job applicants here in Maine, as well across the country."
The state Senate is also currently considering a bill (LD 516) that would allow 16- and 17-year-old students to work until 11:00 p.m. on school nights. Currently, they're allowed to work until 10:00 p.m. It would also allow students to work for a total of 24 hours per week, four more than current law allows. Senators on the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee are split along party lines on the bill, but it's likely to pass when the full body votes on it–the Senate, like the House, is controlled by Republicans.
Democrats in the legislature, along with progressives, labor groups, and advocates for women and children, are opposed to the bills, while industry groups such as the Maine Restaurant Association argue that the current law is too strict compared to others in New England.