Farmworkers, mostly from Mexico and El Salvador, cut broccoli stalks at Smith’s Farm in 2006 near Fort Fairfield in Aroostook County. John Ewing/Staff Photographer, file

AUGUSTA — The Maine House of Representatives voted 72-70 Tuesday to pass a bill establishing a minimum wage for farmworkers and providing them with cost-of-living increases that other workers are eligible for.

“Farmworkers give us life. They give us food,” said Rep. Nina Milliken, D-Blue Hill. “We have an obligation to support them in their pay and in their right to use the courts if they need help receiving their pay.”

The bill, L.D. 2273, was brought forward by Gov. Janet Mills. It would give farmworkers, who are currently exempt from the state’s minimum wage law, the right to earn the state minimum wage – currently $14.15 per hour. They also would be eligible for cost-of-living increases that already apply to other workers.

The version of the bill approved by the House also includes an amendment from a majority of members in the Labor and Housing Committee that strikes from the original bill a provision preventing farmworkers from suing their employers if they aren’t paid the minimum.

Opponents of the bill expressed concerns Tuesday that it would prevent farmworkers from being paid for “piecework” based on how much they harvest, as opposed to an hourly rate.

“I do agree the minimum wage should be paid for agricultural workers,” said Rep. Tiffany Strout, R-Harrington. But Strout said she is concerned that under the proposal, farms may choose not to hire children or teens and instead opt to hire the workers they know will accomplish the most work for the minimum wage.

“It’s taking away the opportunity for kids to learn the work ethic and decide if that’s something they like to do,” Strout said. “I was hopeful this bill would have kept the minimum wage but separated piecework to add something like the base as federal minimum wage … so it allows the business owners and small companies to be able to hire those kids and retirees.”

A separate proposal from a minority of the labor committee would have established a $10 per hour sub-minimum wage for piecework.

The bill will now be taken up in the Senate and also faces an additional vote in the House.

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