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Labor Bills - “Naked Attempts” to Exploit Workers?

April 18, 2011

AUGUSTA, Maine - Two bills being considered by legislators in Augusta are being called a workers' rights rollback "doubleheader." One would remove protections for egg-farm workers and the other would let teenagers work longer hours for less pay. The Maine Working Families Coalition and immigrant rights organizations are labeling them "naked attempts" to exploit workers.

Sarah Standiford with the Maine Women's Lobby says changing the rules for teens would result in students struggling to stay awake in class - and to stay in school, period.

"If we're concerned about student achievement, if we're concerned about Maine's future work force, then we really need to ensure that students are achieving in school."

Backers of the bills see them as efforts to ease restrictions on businesses in order to get Maine's economy back on track.

The bill affecting minors in the workplace would lower their starting pay below minimum wage and uncap the number of overtime hours they could work. Ben Chin of the Maine People's Alliance says that's no way to create the jobs Maine needs.

"There are 52,000 people in Maine out of work right now. The only reason you'd want to uncap the number of hours a week that kids could work is if somehow there were a labor shortage in Maine. It's just such a naked attempt to exploit people."

Standiford says research shows students have the best shot at success when their working hours are limited during the school year.

"Maine teens need education. Maine adults need jobs. This bill is just backwards. If we're going to be focused on creating jobs and improving our economy, that's where our focus should be, not on paying students less."

Chin says the bill affecting minors in the workplace and the measure that would roll back protections for egg-farm workers - including overtime, minimum wage and collective bargaining rights - are misguided.

"We've seen the list grow pretty long of all the scapegoats that the governor and his far-right friends have trotted out here: everybody from teachers to environmental regulations and immigrants and lower-income people. The fact that we're adding children and farmworkers to that list is pretty crazy to us."

Gov. Le Page said in his weekly radio address Saturday that those who complain that he hasn't done enough to help the state's economy in his first 100 days should join him instead of fighting him.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - ME