Lawmaker seeks lower, temporary 'training wage' for workers under 20

AUGUSTA — The sponsor of a new child labor bill says employers should have the flexibility to pay workers under age 20 a "training wage."

Opponents countered that the proposal devalues young workers and takes money out of the hands of laborers and gives it to business.

LD 1346 suggests several significant changes to Maine's child labor law, most notably a 180-day period during which workers under age 20 would earn $5.25 an hour.

The state's current minimum wage is $7.50 an hour.

Rep. David Burns, R-Whiting, is sponsoring the bill, which includes eliminating the maximum hours a minor over 16 can work during school days.

Burns said the bill empowers both employers and employees and that employers would have more opportunities to hire minors.

"An employer’s got to have employees, so they can decide what they want to pay," Burns said. "The student wants to have a job and they can decide what they’re willing to work for."

But Democrats and labor advocates have blasted the proposal. The bill has also caught the attention of the Maine Democratic Party, which was quick to link the bill to Gov. Paul LePage's decision to remove a mural depicting child mill workers and other moments in Maine history from the Department of Labor.

"It's just too perfect after the flap with the mural," party chairman Ben Grant said. "First, the governor tries to whitewash history and now this bill is trying to erase the progress of child labor laws itself."

Burns' bill would effectively revive the teenage wage that was repealed by the Legislature more than 20 years ago.

In 2007, a pair of Republican lawmakers sponsored a bill similar to the one Burns is proposing. That bill was voted down unanimously by the Labor Committee amid opposition from the Labor Department.

In his written testimony, former department director William Peabody said the purpose of the state's child labor law was to "prevent exploitation of our youngest workers by limiting their exposure to hazardous conditions, maintaining the value of their work and balancing work and school."

It's unclear how the current administration will view Burns' bill. Dan Demeritt, a spokesman for LePage, said the administration had yet to review the proposal.

However, the governor is backing a bill sponsored by Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, that loosens work restrictions for 16- and 17-year-olds during the school year. That bill is headed for a vote in the Senate.

It originally proposed allowing high-school-age kids to work up to 32 hours a week during the school year, a provision the governor supported. 

Plowman's bill was eventually amended after significant push-back from labor groups.

Similar resistance to Burns' bill has already begun.

Laura Harper of the Maine Women's Lobby said the proposal undermines efforts to "teach teens the value of hard work."

"...  this instead sends them the message that they aren't valued," Harper said. "That doesn't fit with Maine values. At a time when business leaders recognize that student achievement is critical to Maine's economic growth, this bill will shortchange students and impair Maine's economic success."

Burns disagreed.

"I'm sure some will support this and some won't," he said. "Some will see this as a step back toward child labor. It's not."

Burns, who represents a rural district, was asked if he was concerned that the bill would discourage teens from working because the $5.25 wage wouldn't be worth the driving expense.

"That's a decision they (workers) have to make," he said. "Is it worth it for me, a 17-year old, to drive 25 miles to work if I'm only making $6 an hour or $5.50? We have to make those decisions all the time as adults. It's not the employers' responsibility to compensate somebody for how far they have to drive."

Burns said he'd heard from a lot of parents who are supportive of his bill. He hoped to receive the backing of trade groups like the Maine Restaurant Association, which has supported Plowman's bill.

He said his bill gives employers more hiring options.

"Any time you're putting options on the table you’re improving things," he said.

Democrats and labor advocates disagree. They say Plowman and Burns are putting too much emphasis on work and not enough on education.

Harper cited a 2000 U.S. Department of Labor study that suggested "working a limited number of hours in the junior and senior years of high school has a positive effect on educational attainment."

Democrats on the Legislature's Labor Committee were highly skeptical of Burns' bill. 

Rep. Timothy Driscoll, D-Westbrook, said the two child labor bills under consideration would result in "kids working more hours during the school week and making less money."

A public hearing has not been scheduled for Burns' bill.

smistler@sunjournal.com

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Comments

 's picture

Training wage...........

Come on people, these kids today are the citizens of tomorrow. They need a good education, first and foremost. With the homework load and extra curricula activities they kids barely have time for anything else. Give the training wage to the legislators and representatives !!! This is 2011, not the 1800's. Think about it................

ANTHONY NAZAR's picture

How does this create jobs?

Employers will just let their over twenty burger flippers and house keeping staff go so they can hire kids at $2 less an hour, then lay them off at 179 days and do it all over again with a new slave.

I used to think the Republicans wanted a return to 1911. I was wrong, it's more like pre Civil War to a time when men were white and everyone else knew their place.

What's next? Slavery?

This is not the first time this has been proposed, and it won't be the last time-but it won't fly now, or ever. No matter if you're 16 or 28, the minimum wage for both teens and adults is the FEDERAL standard, not state (which follows the federal law) and lawmakers should remember that before they go proposing new laws that gut the federal labor laws.
Next they'll try to do the same with the adult workers, making it optional to get paid at all.
Stop trying to put Maine back into the 19th century!
The Fair Labor Laws were enacted to stop the abuses and mistreatment of people who were taken advantage of for hundreds of years-and they should not be thrown out just because someone has the idea that wages should be optional.

Amy Flowers's picture

This is why

The governor didn't want a poster with children working for slave wages in factory on the wall of the Dept. of Labor. He wants kids to work up to 35 hours a week for less than minimum wage and doesn't understand the meaning or purpose of 'child labor laws'.

 's picture

child labor laws

Child labor laws are intended to protect our children. These laws need to stay on the books. I find it hard to believe that these legislators have children. It is like they do not have a clue as to the educational workload of a teenager these days. If the child is to succeed, he/she must work hard and spend a good deal of time on school work. Plus, they need sleep. I believe a teenager should work, however, it should be limited so that the teenager is able to succeed in school, get the rest they need, and spend time with the family. The GOP is so concerned about family values, however, they want to rob the family of time with the teenager. This is nuts, in my opinion.

 's picture

I wonder how many parents

I wonder how many parents would actually approve of their adult children ages 18-20 making less than minimum wage? It's already hard enough to get out on your own .

 's picture

I agree

I am not just going to click the "Agree" button on this one. The Liberal outlook on this one baffles me.

 's picture

sweatshop

So, they want to let high school kids work longer hours at less pay? And that supposedly benefits the kids? Really? How many of these kids will work just shy of six months at a job before being replaced by the next "trainee"? Or, how about the 18-20 year olds trying to get out of their parents' house? Do you work them six months and replace them? What happens when they turn 21? Replace them? And if they're already 21, will they be able to land that golden minimum wage job? Or, how about you work a kid for almost six months, lay them off for a week or two, and call them back to begin their "training" again for another six months. And when they turn 21, you turn them loose.

 's picture

this Burns twit should work

this Burns twit should work for $5.25! My God...I think that's what I made in high school in the 80s! What's worse is setting that scale for anyone under 20. If someone goes out on their own as an adult at 18, are they honestly supposed to accept that wage to try to get by in life?

 's picture

this BURNS me up

"employers would have more options" - yes like employing kids who should be studying so they don't have to work for scum who would cheat good employees under 20 and people that have been out of work for a long time out of a living wage. in a time of high unmemployment, employers should be thinking about how to stimulate the Maine economy instead of how to screw it. and Mr Burns from the poorest county in the state should be ashamed to even propose this. I'm sure all those high school grads down there in Washington County are going to be even more likely to stay there to work for even lower wages.
I say, let's follow the lead of countries to our south and save a lot of money by closing all the schools. Places like Columbia and Mexico are the smart ones. They put kids to work as young as 7 or 8 working 10 or 12 hours a day six days a week. It promotes family unity as the kids work right alongside the parents, they contribute to the family budget and the country benefits by not having to support all those money-sucking schools. We could overcome state and federal deficits in a couple of years if we just got rid of the schools. I'm calling my local legislator tomorrow to get a bill going and to get the minimum wage lowered to Columbia and Mexico's - 21 cents an hour. Isn't that an option employers would get behind? It's a win for everyone.

 's picture

training wage

how about if we pay all those new Republican legilators a training wage. how about if they work the first 6 months of the legilative session for free and then if they don't do things like argue over desserts or murals when so many people in this state are hurting for food, heat and jobs, then we can decide to pay them or not.
this is the dumbest most discriminatory thing i have ever heard. legally at age 18, you are an adult but now you're saying those adults can't get paid the same as other adults doing the same job. the word DISCRIMINATION comes to mind. how about if we pay women and minorities even less. oops - if forgot - we already do that. i'd feel a whole lot better about all this new regime if they didn't keep stepping in it. once i've stepped in it, smelled it, and tasted it, i don't do it again but i guess the gov and the legislators must like the taste of all this stuff. me, i can smell it from here. -PU

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