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Maine lawmakers to hear from public on bill to provide minimum wage to farmworkers

In this Friday, Aug. 24, 2018, photo, a worker rakes wild blueberries at a farm in Union, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press file
In this Friday, Aug. 24, 2018, photo, a worker rakes wild blueberries at a farm in Union, Maine.

Farmworkers, labor advocates and employers, will weigh in Tuesday on a bill crafted by Gov. Janet Mills that would require that agricultural workers be paid $14.15 an hour, the state minimum wage.

The proposed law also requires farm employers to keep records of hours worked and compensation, and provide pay stubs.

Worker advocate Thom Harnett, who represented the bill's sponsor, House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, says the legislation is a good first step toward providing equity for farmworkers, who historically are Black, Indigenous and People of Color.

"The other thing that's important is that it puts into state law the requirement of recordkeeping for farmworkers. How many hours they work, how much they are getting paid, they deserve paystubs. Again, being treated like all other working people in Maine," he says.

But Harnett says one gap in the bill is that it doesn't provide farmworkers with a right of action if they are underpaid.

"Under the proposed statute only the Department of Labor can bring an action for unpaid wages. All other minimum wage workers in Maine can bring their own lawsuit when that right has been violated. Under this proposal, farmworkers do no have that right," he says.

The Department of Labor is requesting that voluntary unpaid rest breaks and limits on mandatory overtime be included in the legislation.

A public hearing on the legislation is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday in Augusta.