AUGUSTA — After a lengthy debate Tuesday, lawmakers in the Maine House voted overwhelmingly to restore the tip credit to the state’s minimum wage law. The 110-37 vote essentially repealed part of a ballot question approved by voters in November that increased Maine’s minimum wage and eliminated the tip credit.

The tip credit is a mechanism allowing tipped workers to be paid at a lower rate than other hourly workers.

The November referendum boosted the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9 an hour this year and to $12 an hour by 2020. It also removed the tip credit rule, which allowed employers to pay tipped workers only half of the minimum hourly wage. Restaurant owners and workers turned out in large numbers during public hearings to call for preserving the tip credit, saying the voter-approved minimum wage increase would drive up labor costs for restaurant owners while eroding tips for servers.

Tuesday’s House vote follows approval of the repeal last week in the Senate, where the bill will go for another vote before being sent to Gov. Paul LePage, who has indicated he will sign the repeal into law.

Rep. Beth O’Connor, R-Berwick, a waitress by profession, said the voter-approved law was already hurting servers and restaurants “from Kittery to Caribou.” O’Connor said waiters and waitresses did not support the change because customers tip less when they know servers are being paid more. Other lawmakers who sit on the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, which oversees labor issues, spoke of more than 12 hours of public testimony on the bill earlier this year, when hundreds came to testify both for and against the repeal.

“Although some may say it’s anecdotal fear or unfounded theoretically sky-is-falling stories, I choose to believe those who are telling us that this new law, as we speak, is hurting their families,” said Rep. Joel Stetkis, R-Canaan. Stetkis urged lawmakers to support the change in large enough numbers that the bill could be placed into law quickly as an emergency measure so servers wouldn’t miss out on the busy summer tourism season.


Although the Senate failed to reach the two-thirds support for the repeal to make it an emergency bill and effective immediately, it faces at least one other vote in that body and those opposing it could change their minds. Otherwise, the bill would not become law until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns, or sometime in October.

Opponents of the change said Tuesday that the Legislature was overturning a clear vote of the people in favor of a special interest, the restaurant industry. Rep. Kent Ackley, an independent from Monmouth, said at least seven other states had eliminated their tip credits or never had one in the law and their servers were doing fine. He said overturning the voters on the measure was “simply rewarding those who have the resources to repeat their stories and anecdotes as long and as loud as they possibly can.”

Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO, issued a statement criticizing the Legislature’s votes on the tip credit.

“In November, more than 420,000 voters said loudly and clearly that it was well past time to raise wages for hard-working Mainers. Voters overwhelmingly approved an increase in Maine’s minimum wage because people understand that nobody who works full time should live in poverty,” Schlobohm said in part. “We are disappointed that legislators chose to undermine the democratic process and ignore the will of the people by voting to cut wages for tipped workers.”

Other attempts to change the voter-passed law – including removing a provision that adjusts the minimum wage after 2020 by indexing it to inflation – were rejected by the House on Tuesday.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: