In November, Maine voters approved a ballot referendum to raise the state's minimum wage from $7.50 per hour to $12 per hour by 2020 for un-tipped workers and from $3.75 per hour to $12 per hour by 2024 for tipped restaurant workers.
But on June 8 — seven months after the public had its say — the Maine Senate voted to overturn the portion of the November ballot referendum that affected tipped workers. The measure, as approved by voters, would still apply to un-tipped workers, the Washington Post reported.
The state House approved the legislation shortly after the Senate, and on June 22, Republican Gov. Paul Le Page signed the bill into law.
The newly passed, lower minimum wage for tipped workers will take effect in January, according to the Post.
The reversal came after state lawmakers spoke with the workers whose wages the November referendum tried to raise. Many of the workers they talked with said they didn't support raising the minimum wage because it would have the opposite effect and, in fact, lower their take-home pay.
Critics of a higher minimum wage for tipped workers argued that, if wages increased, prices would go up and customers would spend more but tip less.
Other critics argued that customers simply won't tip if they know that servers already are paid minimum wage.
"The message we are hearing from servers is, ‘Thanks for trying to help us, but you’re not helping us; you’re hurting us, please don’t do this to us," state Sen. Roger Katz, a Republican from Augusta, told the Portland Press Herald.
Supporters of the wage increase for tipped workers argued that workers at smaller establishments make only a few dollars a day in tips, which is barely enough to make ends meet. Meanwhile, tipped workers at larger establishments could earn hundreds of dollars in tips per day.
Maine Democrats said that lawmakers should respect how constituents voted in November and allow the minimum raise to go up.
“I think if we are to overturn the will of the voters, we should have clear and overwhelming evidence that the action of voters have harmed our state,” Sen. Shenna Bellows, a Democrat from Manchester, told the Press Herald.
Sue Vallenza, a 55-year-old Kennebunk bartender, told the Post that she supported the Legislature's move to return the minimum wage for tipped workers to where it was before the referendum took effect. Vallenza said that since the wage hike, she has actually been taking home $2 less per hour in tips.
“I don’t need to be ‘saved,'" Vallenza told the Post, "and I’ll be damned if small groups of uninformed people are voting on my livelihood.
“You can’t cut someone off at the knees like that,” Vallenza said.
Maine was one of 19 states that voted in November to raise the minimum wage. Oregon, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., are expected to raise its minimum wages this year.
The minimum wage debate has received more national attention recently after a new study from the University of Washington found that the Seattle minimum wage, which is the highest of any other city in the country, devastated many low-wage workers.
In a Washington Post opinion piece Monday, columnist Max Ehrenfreund cited the study by economists at UW, which found that Seattle workers' average compensation actually decreased after the city voted to gradually raise to $15 per hour the minimum amount that workers can be paid. Seattle's minimum wage has currently risen to $13 per hour, and workers are feeling the effects.
"On the whole," Ehrenfreund wrote, "the study estimates the average low-wage worker in the city lost $125 a month because of the hike in the minimum."
The Post columnist added that the study's findings "contradict years of research on the minimum wage."
"Many past studies," Ehrenfreund wrote, "have found that the benefits of increases for low-wage workers exceed the costs in terms of reduced employment — often by a factor of 4 or 5 to 1."