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By Ted Goodman

Maine Democrats and Republicans teamed up to alter the state’s minimum wage law Wednesday in a way that both sides say will benefit restaurants and its employees.

The state legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development voted 11-2 Wednesday to restore the “tip credit,” which allows restaurants to pay employees below the minimum wage as long as tips make up the difference. The full legislature will now schedule a vote on the measure.

Maine voters approved an increase in the state’s minimum wage in November, raising it from $7.50 per hour to $12 per hour by 2020. The minimum hourly wage rose to $9 per hour on Jan. 1, and will increase one dollar each year until it reaches $12 per hour in 2020. Service employees who receive tips would reach the new minimum wage by 2024 — many states have a separate minimum wage for employees who are tipped on a regular basis.

A majority of restaurant workers favored restoring the tip credit during public hearings leading up to Wednesday’s vote. Workers say some customers have stopped tipping them, wrongly thinking that the minimum wage increased to $12 per hour on Jan. 1, 2017.

Bartender Ali Boulier told the Portland Press Herald that she’s been “stiffed” by customers who wrongly assumed that her hourly wage is now $12 per hour. Advocates for the restoration of the tip credit argued that the earning potential through tipping is a major factor that draws individuals to the industry, but not all servers are on the same page.

Julia Legler of Portland told The Press Herald that the minimum wage increase is an issue of dignity. “Servers deserve a base wage and I think they will get more respect from their customers if they are paid a higher amount, and it won’t put them in an unhealthy power dynamic between them and their customers,” Legler argued.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage has oppose the minimum wage ballot initiative, asserting voters didn’t understand the question or how it would impact Maine restaurants.

Restaurant owner have complained that the new minimum wage law is hurting business. Most favor a return to the tip credit for wait staff. Soon after the ballot measure passed, with 55 percent support in November, LePage asked that lawmakers restore a lower minimum wage for workers who receive tips, according to the Bangor Daily News.

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