MOFGA Statement on Mills’ Vetoes of Farmworker Bills

4/24/24

Yesterday afternoon, MOFGA expressed frustration and sadness about Governor Mills’ complete refusal to stand for farmworker justice. Following up on a 2023 veto of similar legislation, today Mills vetoed two bills that sought to address inconsistencies in Maine labor law, which unfairly marginalizes and discriminates against people who work tirelessly to put food on our tables. LD 2273 – An Act to Establish a State Minimum Hourly Wage for Agricultural Workers simply would have ensured that farmworkers in Maine are entitled to the same minimum wage as all other workers in Maine, while LD 525 – An Act to Enact the Agricultural Employees Concerted Activity Protection Act would have ensured that farmworkers could discuss terms of employment and labor conditions without fear of losing their jobs. Today’s vetoes mark Mills’ third and fourth rejections of legislative measures relating to farmworker rights.

During the spring, summer and fall of 2023, Governor Mills convened multiple stakeholder meetings with representatives of the state’s diverse agricultural landscape in order to reform the sub-minimum wage of only $7.25 per hour for Maine farmworkers. MOFGA worked in good faith with leadership in the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, the Department of Labor, leadership in the Legislature, and representatives of Maine’s agricultural commodity groups, farmworker organizations, labor groups and labor law experts. While stakeholders had divergent opinions on reform of various agricultural labor laws, the final report from the stakeholder process asserted that all stakeholders supported farmworkers being eligible for the same wage as all other Maine employees (currently $14.15/hour).

“We are so frustrated by the process that Governor Mills led us through, only to reject the outcome of a thoughtful, diverse and committed group of stakeholders,” said Heather Spalding, deputy director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. “We have all worked so hard and compromised so much, asking for small and necessary reform. The legislation we focused on represented tiny steps in the right direction. It’s astounding that Governor Mills would put everyone, including her own administration, through this effort only to pull the rug out from under us once again. Her lengthy veto letters obscure the reality that farmworkers are second class citizens in the eyes of Maine labor law.”

“This is a very sad day for Maine’s agricultural landscape,” said Spalding. “While we hear that most agricultural employers are paying their workers far above Maine’s minimum wage, there is no way for the state to verify it. Maine’s Department of Labor has, i.e. can claim, no jurisdiction. As a result, the state abdicates responsibility for the people who carry out physically demanding work in all kinds of weather, day in day out to grow and harvest the food we eat. Farmworkers came to the stakeholder meetings and legislative hearings to negotiate and advocate on their own behalf and it took a lot of courage to do that. We heard from farmworkers who had endured very difficult and dangerous working conditions, being paid less than Maine’s minimum wage, and sometimes being deprived of wages. Maine can do better and it’s tragic that our Governor is unwilling to stand up for farmworkers.”

“MOFGA will continue to advocate for farmworker justice,” said Spalding. “We hope Governor Mills will come to recognize that farmworker justice will strengthen Maine’s rural economy. There are no farms without farmworkers.” 

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