Beth Schiller, owner of Dandelion Spring Farm in Bowdoinham, harvests squash blossoms at the farm on June 30. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Lawmakers and advocates who support a bill to give farmworkers protections under Maine’s minimum wage law are frustrated by a veto from Gov. Janet Mills, who has argued that lawmakers’ changes to the bill would jeopardize farmers’ financial security.

Mills’ veto of L.D. 2273 on Tuesday hinged on an amendment made in the Labor and Housing Committee to strike a provision in the original bill that placed enforcement duties with the Maine Department of Labor rather than allow farmworkers to pursue private litigation in response to alleged violations.

The governor introduced the legislation in March following the report of a committee that was convened in response to her veto of a different bill in 2023 that would have set a minimum wage for farmworkers, L.D. 398. The group was then tasked with developing a new proposal for a minimum wage for farmworkers.

The Labor and Housing Committee chairs and advocates pushed back on the governor’s veto Wednesday, saying the litigation issue never came up in stakeholder discussions, and that the governor’s opposition is now sinking an important piece of legislation.

“We’ve allowed a sub-minimum wage to exist for agricultural workers in this state and we attempted to remedy that glaring inequity and were met with a veto, which I think is unconscionable,” said Rep. Amy Roeder, D-Bangor, House chair of the committee.



A spokesperson for Mills said the governor was at an offshore wind conference in New Orleans Wednesday and not available for an interview. In a letter to lawmakers Tuesday, she said she was disappointed to have to issue the veto, but found it necessary because of concerns about lawmakers’ inclusion of provisions allowing for privately initiated litigation over alleged violations.

The bill 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.

Mills said that although lawmakers raised concerns about the litigation issue never having come up during the stakeholder meetings, “One can also reach the opposite conclusion – that it was never raised because farmers never believed it would become an issue – which is what I believe happened,” she wrote in her veto letter. Mills said the Maine Potato Board withdrew its support for the bill over the change.

She also said the change ignores the unique position of the farming industry compared to other sectors and could imperil it.

“Knowing that my original bill provided an adequate enforcement remedy, I did not – and still do not – believe it is appropriate to authorize a private right of action carte blanche, particularly in the case of farms, because I am deeply concerned that doing so would result in litigation that would simply sap farmers of financial resources and cause them to fail,” Mills wrote. 

The governor said she offered a compromise that would allow employees to seek a right-to-sue letter from the Department of Labor, but it was rejected by the committee. 


“I do not want to veto this bill,” she wrote. “But the Legislature’s actions leave me little choice. I do not believe Maine farmers should face the prospect of privately initiated lawsuits, which would almost certainly lead to losing more farms in the long run.” 


Roeder and Sen. Mike Tipping, D-Orono, Senate chair of the Labor and Housing Committee, defended the committee’s amendment Wednesday and said they do not believe the bill should restrict workers’ ability to initiate private litigation.

“We wanted to just give them a very basic minimum wage right, and I think it’s deeply unfortunate the governor would veto that after all this work,” Tipping said.

“We wanted to be sure there was no additional ban or restriction on farmworker rights,” Roeder said. “The governor put that (restriction) in. We chose to take it out to be more equitable and because it did not come up in the stakeholder process.”

She said the Department of Labor is already overwhelmed, so the compromise idea of seeking a right-to-sue letter did not make sense. “And ultimately, any kind of compromise further removes farmworkers from the same kinds of rights that other employees have,” Roeder said.


House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, who sponsored the governor’s bill, said in a statement Wednesday that she is “disappointed in this veto and troubled by its justification for disparate treatment and the de facto second-class status for some workers in our state.”

“Farmworkers, who come from near and far, deserve nothing less than the legal protections afforded to all other working people,” Talbot Ross said.

Advocates for farmworkers also met the governor’s veto with sharp criticism.

“Gov. Mills’ veto sends a clear message to farmworkers that they are of second-class status and are not worthy of the same rights and protections other workers enjoy,” Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO, said in a statement.

“This veto is an embarrassment to the state of Maine and a continuation of a long history of exclusion and exploitation.”

Immigration Economy

Jenni Tilton-Flood is a partner in Flood Brothers dairy farm in Clinton. Tilton-Flood said in testimony to the labor committee in March that her farm already pays at the state minimum or higher.  Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

Jenni Tilton-Flood, an owner and manager at the Flood Brothers, LLC farm in Clinton, said the veto was a great disappointment.


“I think as someone who has been an employee and is an employer, I see the concerns on both sides,” Tilton-Flood said. “Yet it is odd for me and I don’t have an understanding … of why it would be important for only a small sector of employees in Maine to have no access to private right of action.”

Tilton-Flood said in testimony to the labor committee in March that her farm already pays at the state minimum or higher.

“As a Mainer who depends upon our food systems to be robust and secure, not simply as an eater but because it’s the way I make my living, I really wish we had this behind us and that we were on the road to making sure there was equity and fairness throughout our food system,” she added.


The Maine Potato Board, meanwhile, issued a statement Wednesday thanking Mills for vetoing the bill along with another piece of legislation, L.D. 525, which would create a new legal framework governing labor relations in Maine’s agricultural sector.

“While we fully supported the Governor’s original L.D. 2273, unfortunately, that changed significantly due to a committee amendment,” said Jeannie Tapley, assistant executive director of the board. “Gov. Mills’ vetoes assured the hard-working people in the agriculture industry that she understands the complexities of this business, and takes our concerns seriously.”


Tapley said the agricultural industry is concerned that the labor committee version of the bill could be financially draining for farms, especially in situations where they are not found liable.

“The governor’s original bill allowed for protections through the Maine Department of Labor, thereby protecting farmworkers from unfairness, but also protecting farmers from paying out-of-pocket legal expenses even when they have done no wrong,” she said.

A lobbyist for the Maine Farm Bureau said that while they also supported Mills’ version of the bill, they were blindsided by the committee’s amendment allowing farmworkers to sue, saying it would make Maine an outlier among other states.

“I think the assumption is there is no right to action at all, but there is,” said Garrett Mason. “If an employee feels they have been mistreated or like their wages weren’t properly calculated, they can go to the Department of Labor, which can issue a finding.”

L.D. 2273 passed the House of Representatives by narrow margins – an initial vote was 72-70 and a second vote was 77-70 – while it passed the Senate 23-11 on the first vote and without a roll call on the second vote.

In order to override the governor’s veto, lawmakers would need two-thirds support in each chamber, which Tipping and Roeder said is unlikely. “I don’t see a path forward,” Tipping said.


While the litigation issue was a sticking point for Mills, some lawmakers also have raised concerns about the bill preventing farmworkers from having the option to be paid for “piecework” based on how much is harvested, as opposed to an hourly rate.

A different version of the bill approved by a minority of labor committee members would have created a separate sub-minimum wage for piecework and, like the governor’s version, did not give farmworkers the right to sue.

Rep. Dick Bradstreet, R-Vassalboro, who backed that version of the bill, said he was not surprised by the veto and agreed with Mills.

“The background on farm workers is unique,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that has to be done at certain times and farmers themselves make very little. Defending yourself in a lawsuit can cost a lot of money farmers don’t have. … (The right to sue) was a highly unnecessary item to put into that bill and it caused the bill to be vetoed.”

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