May 30, 2020
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Mills eliminates ‘subminimum wage’ for people with disabilities

Natalie Williams | BDN
Natalie Williams | BDN
Gov. Janet Mills delivers her State of the State address at the Capitol in Augusta on Jan. 21.

A new law will eliminate subminimum wages for people with disabilities in Maine.

On March 18, Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill, sponsored by Assistant House Majority Leader Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, forbidding employers from paying workers less than minimum wage if they have a mental or physical disability. It will take effect June 16.

In the past, employers could request an exemption from minimum wage laws, under a little known federal law from 1938 that allowed them to pay people less “whose earning or productive capacity is impaired by a physical or mental disability, including those relating to age or injury,” if they could prove the workers were not as productive as others.

Fewer Maine employers have been using the subminimum wage in recent years.

In 2013, 13 Maine employers obtained subminimum wage certificates — which were good for two years — from both the U.S. Department of Labor and the Maine Department of Labor to allow them to pay subminimum wages, according to the Maine Department of Labor. In 2015, eight employers had the authorization.

In 2017, Skills Inc., based in the Somerset County town of St. Albans, was the only employer in Maine authorized to pay employees a subminimum wage.

That year, the Bangor Daily News uncovered that the organization, which offers programming and jobs to people with intellectual disabilities, paid an employee as little as $2.14 per hour. At the same time, its executives received six-figure salaries. One year, the organization paid a manager $570,000.

[A Maine nonprofit paid its disabled workers less than minimum wage while its executives got six figures]

At the time, the organization acknowledged that “not all decisions made were the best decisions.”

Today, no employers in Maine have authorization to pay people less than minimum wage, which is $12 per hour.

At least four other states have eliminated the subminimum wage option, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

 


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