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Lawmakers and 'One Fair Wage' advocate for minimum wage, tips for Maine servers

At a round-table discussion in Biddeford, the advocacy group, legislators, and restaurant owners addressed the need to pay workers a minimum wage plus tips.

BIDDEFORD, Maine — It's easy to imagine that wine is normally the focus at Lorne Wine Bar in Biddeford. But on Tuesday, the conversation inside the business was centered around paying employees who work there and at restaurants across Maine a fair wage.

The national and statewide workforce shortage has only been made worse by the COVID pandemic. To address that issue, advocates from One Fair Wage are committed to passing laws at the federal and local levels to establish fair pay for restaurant and hospitality workers.

State Rep. Erin Sheehan, D-Biddeford, also owns Lorne and said she is in the process of restructuring her business so she can pay new employees the fair wages they deserve.

“We want to make sure everyone we hire is making at least the minimum wage plus tips," she said.

Current female servers in the industry also spoke to the increased harassment they and their co-workers have faced since the start of the COVID pandemic. 

Encouraging Mainers to stay, or join, the service industry is crucial for the state, and Sheehan said providing wage equity is one way to attract or retain those workers.

Credit: NCM

Saru Jayaraman is the President of 'One Fair Wage' and said establishing a minimum wage for these workers is the future of the industry and could push past, or new workers, into these jobs.

“We can do this here in Maine. That’s why we’re here," she added.

State Rep. Mike Sylvester, D-Portland, has sponsored legislation titled 'Maine Food Workers' Bill of Rights that would provide a minimum wage to restaurant workers, small farmers and small grocers.

“We want to pay our workers, we want our workers to thrive the same way they want their businesses to thrive," he said. “We take care of our neighbors, we take care of our friends and employers want to take care of their employees.”

Sylvester and Jayaraman awarded restaurants that are already paying their workers a fair wage Tuesday. One of those stops was at Ruby's West End in Portland. Co-owner Corrinna Stum opened her businesses with the mindset of making changes in how restaurants are operated.

Credit: NCM

“And at the end of the day, remember that your resources are going to the most important people, and that’s your staff," she said.

Stum added paying her staff, and workers around the state, are crucial to continuing to attract people to visit Maine.

Sylvester said there are a few hurdles facing his bill before it can become law, but that process will begin in a few weeks when he presents the legislation in a hearing. 

More NEWS CENTER Maine stories.