Farmworkers, mostly from Mexico and El Salvador, cut broccoli stalks at Smith’s Farm in 2006 near Fort Fairfield in Aroostook County. John Ewing/Staff Photographer, File

AUGUSTA — A legislative committee on Thursday recommended passage of a proposal to raise the minimum wage for farmworkers to the same rate as other workers in Maine.

The Legislature’s Committee on Labor and Housing voted to endorse an amended version of a bill from Gov. Janet Mills raising the minimum wage for farmworkers and providing them with cost-of-living increases that other workers get.

Committee Co-Chair Rep. Amy Roeder, D-Bangor, said the vote fell along party lines with Democrats voting in the majority for an amendment that strikes from the original bill a provision preventing farmworkers from suing their employers if they aren’t paid the minimum. While other Maine workers have the right to sue, the original bill gave the Maine Department of Labor exclusive rights to bring legal action for unpaid wages in cases involving farmworkers. The amendment also has the new minimum wage taking effect Jan. 1, 2025, rather than Sept. 1, 2024.

An amendment from Rep. Dick Bradstreet, R-Vassalboro, that had minority support would not strike the legal action provision or change the effective date, but it would set a separate sub-minimum wage of $10 per hour for piecework.

The bill, L.D. 2273, now advances to the House and Senate for floor votes.

Farmworkers are currently exempt from the state’s minimum wage law, and most fall under the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The current minimum wage in state law for other workers is $14.15 per hour.

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