Farmworkers, mostly from Mexico and El Salvador, cut broccoli stalks at Smith’s Farm near Fort Fairfield in Aroostook County in 2006. Press Herald Photograph

Gov. Janet Mills on Wednesday proposed raising the minimum wage for farmworkers to match the current Maine minimum wage of $14.15 per hour for all other workers.

Farmworkers are exempt from Maine’s minimum wage laws, and most farmworkers fall under the federal $7.25 minimum wage, which was set by Congress in 2009.

The bill introduced Wednesday would set a new minimum for farmworkers starting in September, and future cost-of-living increases would be the same for farmworkers as all other workers in Maine.

Mills vetoed a similar bill in 2023 after concerns that the previous bill would cause unintended consequences in the agricultural industry. In her July 2023 veto letter, Mills wrote that the bill could affect labor laws “dealing with unemployment, independent contractor status, records of payment and piecework compensation – parts of law that were not intended to be dealt with under this bill.”

Because the bill last year was brought up late in the session, there was not enough time to fix the legislation, Mills had said. Instead, Mills convened a committee that made recommendations to boost the minimum wage without including provisions that would unintentionally harm the agricultural industry, Mills said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

“Maine’s agricultural industry, along with the hardworking farmers and farmworkers who sustain it, are a cornerstone of our economy – and we cannot achieve a healthy industry without supporting both in a balanced way,” Mills said in the statement. “While I recognize this legislation does not entirely achieve everyone’s aims, it takes into account a diverse set of perspectives and appropriately balances the need to establish a minimum wage for farmworkers with the unique and diverse challenges of running a farm in Maine.”


Though the minimum wage for farmworkers would be the same as for other workers if the bill is approved, it would “establish the minimum wage for agricultural workers in state law separately from other minimum wage provisions, ensuring that the Legislature considers the uniqueness of the farm sector when contemplating future statutory changes.”

Maine has about 7,600 farms, according to recent federal data. The farms employ more than 13,000 hired employees, not including contracted workers.

“Farming is one of the state’s proudest heritage industries and an integral part of our economy,” House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross said in a prepared statement.

Talbot Ross is the bill’s prime sponsor. “Mainers recognize that farmers and farmworkers are hardworking people. And we also recognize there are serious and deeply entrenched structural and systemic problems in this sector. This legislation will allow Maine to take a significant step in working towards equitable conditions and finally guarantees a minimum wage for this essential work.”

Heather Spalding, deputy director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, couldn’t be reached for an interview on Wednesday night, but she had testified in favor of the 2023 bill.

“We must not balance the farm economy on the backs of farmworkers who do physically demanding, sometimes dangerous and always essential jobs to meet the basic needs of society,” Spalding said during a public hearing.

During the debate over last year’s bill, Democratic sponsors removed worker-friendly provisions, such as a mandate to pay time-and-a-half for more than 40 hours worked during a week. Farmworkers are often considered contractors and not employees, and so often do not receive many of the benefits common at other workplaces, such as paid time off.

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