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Bill Seeks to End Maine's Subminimum Wage for Workers with Disabilities

Employers of hourly workers in Maine have the option of paying them less if they have a disability under the state's subminimum-wage provisions. (Davide Baraldi/Pexels)
Employers of hourly workers in Maine have the option of paying them less if they have a disability under the state's subminimum-wage provisions. (Davide Baraldi/Pexels)
January 22, 2020

AUGUSTA, Maine -- A bill that would ban the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities in Maine gets a public hearing today at the Statehouse.

HP 1340 would amend the minimum-wage law so that employers can no longer pay workers less than the state minimum wage because of a disability. Kile Pelletier, who has a developmental disability, is testifying in support of the bill, along with other members of the group Speaking Up For Us. As he was driving -- something past employers didn't think he could do -- Pelletier said he is passionate about this bill.

"People with disabilities cannot get ahead in life," he said. "We should be paid [as] an equal player, like everyone else, so we can actually live how we want to live."

Pelletier said he used to work for the subminimum wage at a homeless shelter, and felt it was unfair. He said he thinks the bill has wide support among people with disabilities.

Maine's minimum wage is $12 an hour. The current law says an employer can pay workers less if they are "unable to perform the same duties" as those without a disability. If the bill passes, employers would no longer able to get special certificates allowing them to pay a subminimum wage.

Staci Converse, managing attorney with Disability Rights Maine, said her organization supports the change, even if the lower wage is seldom used.

"According to the Department of Labor website that I looked at last week," she said, "it does not appear that there are any employers in Maine that currently have a subminimum wage certificate for this reason."

As of 2008, Maine stopped giving state funding to companies that hired workers with disabilities in "sheltered workshops," or working separately from others. Converse said hiring people at subminimum wages is seen as an outdated policy.

Pelletier said he's getting married soon -- and to him, earning a good living is extremely important.

"If people that have disabilities want to have a family and raise kids, and be great parents to their kids - make their kids look up to them," she said, "they need to provide for their families like everyone else does."

The public hearing is to start at 9:30 a.m. at the Statehouse.

More information is online at legislature.maine.gov, and a summary of Maine minimum-wage laws is at employmentlawhandbook.com.

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - ME