MOFGA Denounces Mills’ Veto Of Farmworker Minimum Wage

July 18, 2023

MOFGA is astounded by Governor Mills’ last minute veto of a bill (LD 398) that would ensure a farmworker’s right to minimum wage.

Under current federal and Maine law, farmworkers are ensured of only $7.25 per hour (the federal minimum wage — unchanged since July of 2009), no overtime and no protected right to engage in collective bargaining with employers. Nearly every worker in the state is entitled to these protections but not farmworkers. This was a scaled-down bill that would have given farmworkers minimum wage but no overtime and no protected right for collective bargaining.

“For years Governor Mills has opposed the interests of the essential workers who carry out physically demanding and often dangerous work in all kinds of weather so that we can have food on our table,” said Heather Spalding, MOFGA’s deputy director. “In the last legislative session, she vetoed farmworkers’ right to engage in collective bargaining agreements, and during the recent legislative session she threatened to veto the minimum wage bill if it included overtime and a protection for farmworkers merely wishing to voice concerns regarding terms of employment. Even with the amendments that she demanded, she still acted against farmworkers. Governor Mills abdicated the responsibility to right an historic wrong in state and federal agricultural labor laws.”

In her veto letter, the Governor said that she strongly supported a minimum wage for farmworkers, but she then tried to justify her opposition to the legislation claiming that the amendments made the bill too confusing.

“It is impossible to accept this explanation of her action,” said Spalding. “Governor Mills’ own staff from the Department of Labor and the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry participated in multiple stakeholder meetings where participants discussed the bill language and amendments at length and made concession after concession, mainly at the request of the Governor herself. It is disingenuous for her to say that she supports minimum wage for farmworkers when she won’t even allow a stripped-down bill with many exemptions for agricultural employers to pass into law.”

The Governor signaled that she intends to convene another stakeholders’ group to work on the issue.

“MOFGA will continue to advocate for farmworkers’ rights and believes that minimum wage is one small part of the reforms that need to be made in agricultural labor law,” said Spalding. “Farmworkers deserve all of the benefits and protections that all other workers in Maine are entitled to – including minimum wage, overtime, collective bargaining, concerted activity, paid time off and more. We are grateful to Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross for her leadership with efforts to reform agricultural labor laws. MOFGA is committed to creating a future in which everyone has access to healthy, culturally appropriate food, and power is more evenly distributed within the food system. We are proud to work with a broad and deeply engaged community of stakeholders, including farmers and agricultural employers, who recognize the critical role that farmworkers play in our food and agriculture system.”

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