Expanding Basic Worker Protections to New Classes of Workers

All workers deserve basic rights, like a minimum wage and the ability to form a union.  But some classes of workers fall through the cracks and don’t receive these kinds of basic rights. These inconsistencies in labor law should be corrected to make sure all workers have the protections they deserve.

The Problem

National labor law put in place by the Fair Labor Standards Act and the National Labor Relations Act were set in the 1930s when women and people of color in particular had far less representation in the political process than they do today.  As a result, agricultural, domestic, home care, taxi and truck drivers, and “tipped” workers were not given the same basic protections many other workers were guaranteed.

Over time, Maine has begun to fix some of these inequalities.  For example, in 2007, Maine extended overtime and minimum wage protections to a large portion of domestic and direct care workers.  Still, even some of these workers, if they are hired by the homeowner directly or are employed by a “publicly supported non-profit agency,” do not receive these protections.

In stark contrast to this trend towards equality, the 125th legislative session in Maine saw the repeal of collective bargaining rights for egg farm workers and home care workers, as well as the weakening of overtime standards for truck drivers.  

Tips are usually not enough for workers to live on. A recent study of restaurant workers in Maine found that only 16.3% make a livable wage.  About a quarter reported not being paid overtime, 27% reported being forced to work off the clock without being paid, and racial bias and sexual harassment were persistent themes.  All of this underscores how low standards in some workplace protections invites mistreatment in other areas—even when prohibited by law.

Why Support Expanding Worker Protections

•All workers deserve to be treated fairly.

•Many “high road” employers do the right thing and treat their employees well, but are forced to compete against  “low road” employers that don’t.  We should level the playing field.

Addressing Common Concerns

Maine is not alone in expanding basic protections to workers that would otherwise fall through the cracks.  For example:

•Fourteen states extend minimum wage to farm workers.  Seven states extend some kind of overtime to them as well.

•About half of all states provide some domestic workers minimum wage, overtime protection, or both.

•Six states require home care workers to be paid the state minimum wage.  Fifteen states guarantee these workers overtime pay.

Sources and Links to more information

•For more information on extending basic coverage to agricultural, domestic, and home care workers in particular, see pages 73-82 in the National Employment Law Project’s handbook Winning Wage Justice: http://nelp.3cdn.net/4fd24202008c596117_oxm6bglbn.pdf

•Maine Restaurant Worker Report: http://rocunited.org/maine-behind-the-kitchen-door/

•Atlantic timeline that chronicles decades of labor violations at DeCoster egg farm: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/09/timeline-of-shame-deca...