Bills to change child labor laws split local legislators
Augusta — Local legislators are divided on bills to allow young people to work more hours and pay them below the minimum wage.
There are two bills before the Legislature that deal with youth labor. The one that has received the most attention is LD 1346, which would establish a so-called training wage of $5.25 for people younger than 20 years old for their first 180 days of employment.
The bill would also eliminate the number of hours a person 16 or 17 could work during school days, and allow a minor under 16 to work up to four hours on a school day during hours when school is not in session.
Another bill, LD 516, would increase the hours youths could work. LD 516 would repeal the limit on the hours 16-year-olds can work when school is not in session and repeal the limits on the hours 17-year-olds can work.
State Sen. Christopher Rector, R-Thomaston, said he has mixed reactions to LD 1346. He is co-sponsor of LD 516. Rector is also chairman of the Legislature's Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee that is considering the bills.
Rector said he would not support increasing the hours that children under 16 can work but said the state needs to consider increasing the hours that 16- and 17-year-olds could work. He noted that Maine is one of the most restrictive states in limiting hours of work for these older teens.
Rector said there will be increasing challenges to hiring people as young as 14 without changes. He noted he operates an ice cream shop in Camden and he employs young people who are paid the current minimum wage, plus a bonus, and tips.
The Thomaston Republican said he was not sure about establishing a training wage but that he wants to hear the testimony before deciding how he would vote.
Rep. Edward Mazurek, D-Rockland, said he is not in favor of these proposed changes to the child labor laws.
"Once again, it appears we are moving backwards in the state of Maine," Mazurek said. "Extending work hours and reducing hourly pay for students is certainly contradictory to sound educational policies. In addition, how does this help the economic situation of the working people of Maine? I am shocked that people are actually considering these anti-child labor laws."
Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston, said he also is opposed to the proposed changes.
"Young people's lives are complicated enough. Education and family time are far more important than a work schedule," Kruger said.
Rep. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport, said she has not read the bills nor does she sit on the committee but she has heard from many teachers and child advocates who oppose the bill.
Rep. Walter Kumiega III, D-Deer Isle, said he has some serious concerns with LD 1346.
"I don't think lowering wages is an economic development tool. Should we give an employer a $2 an hour incentive to hire a 20-year-old over a 21-year-old?" Kumiega asked.
He represents the House district that also includes Vinalhaven and North Haven. He said allowing students to work more and study less is hardly a pro-education policy.
"I think of the hotel barons of Bar Harbor and the hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate they buy and sell like a Monopoly game. How does $2 an hour fit into their business plan? Does it mean they can buy up three hotels next year instead of only two? I just do not see this bill benefiting working Mainers or students in the long run," Kumiega said.
Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, is a co-sponsor of LD 1346.
"Though I do not fully support, and have some concerns with the provision in the bill regarding the reduction of the minimum wage to $5.25 per hour for all students or trainees under 20, there may be positions for workers in the younger brackets that it could be appropriate for certain duties," Sanderson said.
Sanderson, whose district also includes Washington, said she was a staffing coordinator for a company in Augusta and there were many times where, depending on the students' school schedule, they could have easily worked more, and indeed wanted to work more, than Maine statute allowed, specifically the 16- to 18-year-olds.
"As long as there are some limits in place so their education time isn't compromised, I believe we do a disservice to these kids who want to work by telling them they can't," Sanderson said.
She said many of the students were working to help pay for college tuition.
State Sen. Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said, "When we consider labor laws, it needs to be a very thoughtful process. I'm sure that this legislation will receive that same careful consideration."
Rep. Wes Richardson, R-Warren, said he supports both the training wage for people under 20 and the increase in hours for youths to work. He said that is how he started out in the job market and it may be needed to get youths able to get jobs.
Rep. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, is a co-sponsor of LD 516.
A public hearing was held last month on LD 516. No public hearing has been scheduled yet on LD 1346.
The state minimum wage is $7.50 an hour with exceptions.
Federal law sets a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour but includes exceptions, including for people who receive tips. The federal law allows for a minimum wage of $4.25 per hour for people younger than 20 years old for the first 90 consecutive calendar days of employment. There are also exceptions for full-time students.