LePage’s bad mood shouldn’t set anyone’s wage

Gov. Paul LePage made a strong case last week for why it’s critical to raise the minimum wage for all workers in the state. Of course, he didn’t mean to make that argument.

Appearing on the radio, the cheapskate said that he stiffs wait staff to make a political point.

“I cut the tip in half and then I put the comment, ‘Call your legislator,’ on my charge card” receipt, LePage said, according to the Sun Journal.

In November, voters approved an increase in the minimum wage. The governor has been a vocal opponent of the policy, despite its strong support among voters.

The law raised the statewide minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9. The wage continues to rise until it reaches $12 an hour in 2020. At that point, it will rise each year with inflation.

It also eliminates over time the tip credit, which allows industries where workers receive tips to earn a sub-minimum wage as long as tips boost the total wage to the minimum wage threshold. The sub-minimum wage for tipped workers would finally end in 2024, seven years from now.

This week, the Legislature will consider at least 10 bills that seek to change, overturn or study the minimum wage increase.

The governor of the state — who enjoys publicly financed, free housing, a $70,000-a-year salary and a $35,000-a-year expense account that he can spend however he likes — punishes people arbitrarily because he doesn’t like the outcome of the last election.

Of his salary and benefits, LePage says he feels like a priest or nun. (I don’t know any clergy who hold back on tips.)

Frankly, it’s awful, if not surprising.

The governor, at every turn, does what he can to disempower workers. He attacks unions. He attacks low-income working people. He has tried to roll back child labor laws, making it legal for kids as young as 12 to enter the workforce.

And who could forget the whole labor mural fiasco?

Right now in Maine and the United States — in fact, in much of the world — our economy is built upon cheap labor and cheap energy.

We don’t pay the real cost of production. The costs are shifted off to future generations in the form of undrinkable water, fouled air and a degraded environment. Energy, particularly fossil fuels, is subsidized in a way that’s hidden from most consumers.

And workers, who aren’t paid a living wage, rely upon other services to make ends meet or simply suffer, with their children going without.

Businesses that are built upon a model that doesn’t account for the true cost of what they produce are ultimately unsustainable.

Some restaurant owners and their staff are opposed to the change in the tip credit, arguing that it will hurt their business and hurt the servers who make significantly more than minimum wage when their tips are included in their total salary.

But as the Bangor Daily News found when it endorsed the higher minimum wage before the election last year, most waiters and waitresses earn low wages, even when tips are included. The average of salary for people in the restaurant and food service industry is about $23,000 a year.

Fair Wage Maine, the campaign that supported the successful ballot initiative, found that increasing the minimum wage to $12 would help one in four working moms, and that 52,000 Maine kids live in a household with one parent who would get a raise.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, my mom had to take a job working at a fast food restaurant.

Restaurant is a kind description for the place where she worked.

The job was terrible. The pay was terrible. The hours were terrible. She had to be at work before dawn for the breakfast shift.

It wasn’t a tip job, but the pay was miserable, and we really struggled until she was able to escape. It was tough work for little pay and even less thanks.

People like my mom — hard working, honest and who play by the rules — deserve a raise.

There are at least seven states that don’t allow a sub-minimum wage. Eliminating the tip credit hasn’t hurt workers there.

I get why some restaurants and servers are nervous. The change in the law affects them directly. But the evidence shows that you can have a healthy restaurant economy and pay a higher minimum wage without impacting tips.

People who work low-wage jobs shouldn’t be dependent upon the governor’s mood — or anyone else’s — for their pay.

LePage’s activism is misplaced and cruel; his targets are largely powerless to fight back.

The governor of the state has no business short-changing hardworking Mainers. And as legislators consider changing our state’s new law, hopefully they realize they don’t either.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at dfarmer14@hotmail.com.