LePage’s labor department stalls enforcement of tip credit, overtime changes

The minimum wage increase passed by Maine voters in November will take effect early next month, but the LePage administration said Thursday that it won’t enforce a controversial change for tipped workers until January’s end.

It drew a sharp rebuke from the progressive coalition that pushed the referendum, which called it “a slap in the face” to thousands of working Mainers, though a spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Labor said it expects employers to follow the law.

The Maine Department of Labor said the changes made in Question 4 will take effect on Jan. 7, with the state’s hourly minimum wage going from $7.50 to $9 before it goes to $12 by 2020.

But referendum also phases out the hourly sub-minimum wage of $3.75 for workers who get tips, which industry groups called the most onerous piece of the proposal, since tips are a wage subsidy for servers born by restaurant customers.

LePage opposed the referendum, which was boosted by Mainers for Fair Wages, a coalition led by the Maine People’s Alliance, whose leaders the governor said should be “thrown in jail” for supporting the question.

Since then, the governor has urged the Legislature to restore the sub-minimum wage, which will rise to $5 on Jan. 7 and will rise every year until it reaches the regular minimum wage.

On Thursday, LePage’s labor department said it won’t bring wage enforcement actions on the tip changes and a federal minimum salary requirement for overtime-exempt employees until Jan. 31.

Julie Rabinowitz, a spokeswoman for the department, said the department has delayed rules in the past and said while “employers are expected to make workers ‘whole’ even during the non-enforcement period,” the administration doesn’t want to punish employers if they didn’t know about the law change.

But Amy Halsted, the campaign manager for Mainers for Fair Wages, said LePage “has now gone beyond ignoring the will of Maine voters and is flat-out encouraging employers to commit wage theft” and said the move is “a slap in the face to tens of thousands of Mainers who are working hard and too often struggling to afford heat, food and medicine.”

The campaign group also said it’s setting up a hotline for wage complaints. The labor department can be reached at 207-623-7900.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.