A bill to improve overtime protections for salaried workers in Maine failed to win support from a legislative committee Thursday, leaving final passage of the law uncertain.

Members of the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee voted on an amended version of the bill, L.D. 402, that would increase the salary threshold for workers to earn overtime pay from the current $36,000 a year to $51,300 a year by 2026.

The original bill was based on Obama-era reforms to overtime rules that were held up in court and later partially overturned by the Trump administration. Many salaried employees that do not have managerial or supervisory responsibilities are eligible to earn overtime pay of 1.5 times their normal wage for hours they work in excess of 40 hours a week, but only if their earnings fall below the state’s $36,000 threshold. The federal threshold is $35,568.

Progressive and labor groups in Maine championed L.D. 402 as a way to claw back some of the overtime protections salaried workers have lost in recent decades, and to prohibit businesses from incorrectly classifying low-paid employees and making them work unreasonably long hours.

The bill was opposed by some of the state’s largest business groups, and Republican committee members voted against it. Some businesses say new wage mandates would hurt the economy at a time when they are adjusting to a higher minimum wage and mandatory paid time off.

They were joined in opposition by committee co-chair Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester. Bellows said she agrees with everything the bill is trying to accomplish, and that the nonprofit organization she operates adopted the Obama-era overtime rules, which sought to raise the eligibility threshold to $47,000 a year.

However, with the recent economic shocks from the global coronavirus outbreak and increasing long-term uncertainty, Bellows said, it is inappropriate timing to add more wage mandates on businesses. Maine reported its first presumptive case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, on Thursday shortly before the committee session.

“I appreciate the principals, and in a different economic environment I would be implementing those,” Bellows said. “I don’t think the time is right for this bill.”

The committee voted 6 to 4 that the bill “ought not to pass.” Republicans on the committee were joined by Bellows and Rep. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, who signaled support for her own version of the bill.

Three committee members, two Republicans and a Democrat, were absent from the vote.

Rep. Scott Cuddy, D-Winterport, who proposed the amendment, said that while he is aware of and sympathetic to businesses’ concerns, regular workers already shoulder the cost of unpaid overtime.

Cuddy’s amendment would have lowered the long-term threshold proposed under the original L.D. 402 from the original target of more than $57,000 by 2023, with regular bumps every year afterward based on the average annual rate of increase of weekly earnings for full-time wage and salary workers.

“At the heart of it, I sit now during an economic time where there is uncertainty, but I also sit at a time with unemployment below 3 percent,” Cuddy said. “It is fundamentally unfair that there are people working that hard for that little money, and their control over their schedule is not what it should be.”

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