AUGUSTA, Maine — More than half of the Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives joined Republicans on Tuesday to endorse a bill to repeal changes for tipped restaurant servers that were approved by voters in a 2016 minimum wage referendum.
The vote in the Democratic-led House will rankle progressives, who last year led the referendum passed by 55 percent of Maine voters, which set Maine’s regular hourly minimum wage to rise to $12 by 2020 and began to phase out a lower minimum wage for tipped workers.
The bill from Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, passed the House in a 110-37 vote on Tuesday. It would allow restaurants to pay servers a base wage of half Maine’s current hourly minimum wage of $9 as long as tips get them to that minimum threshold. The Republican-led Senate passed the bill initially last week. It faces further action in both chambers.
The bill was heavily lobbied by Maine’s restaurant industry and servers, who packed a 15-hour hearing on it in April and said the change would hurt their bottom lines.
It was opposed by progressive groups including the Maine AFL-CIO and the Maine People’s Alliance, which helped run a $2.8 million campaign to pass the referendum. Proponents said it would provide more stable wages for servers and make them less reliant on tips.
For months, it has been clear that many Democrats would heed that pressure and vote to change the voter-approved law after eight of them co-sponsored Katz’s bill. Many voted for it in a legislative committee after winning worker protection in an amended version.
On Tuesday, 40 Democrats in the House voted for it and 34 voted against it. Rep. Catherine Nadeau, D-Winslow, who was one of the co-sponsors, said on the House floor that the Legislature shouldn’t make “unnecessary changes” to voter-approved laws, but that her constituents’ concerns prompted her vote.
“Reinstating the tip credit and allowing employers to consider tips as part of a server’s wages in meeting the minimum wage obligation will still mean servers will make $12 an hour by 2020,” she said.
But Rep. Mike Sylvester, D-Portland, cited constituents who told him that tips are a “gift” from customers and “not a wage” and said, “I’m sorry if today, this body says no” to the changes in the voter-approved law.
“I thank the people of Maine for the hope they have give to the people all over this state who toil every day for the least allowable wage that is offered under our great statutes,” he said.