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Retail Worker Bills Draw Fire From Employers

AUGUSTA, Maine — Some members of Maine's business community turned out in opposition today to two proposals aimed at changing laws that govern pay and working conditions. One measure would affect more than 60,000 retail workers in Maine.

One piece of Legislation under consideration in Augusta would set some minimum standards around pay and require work schedules for retail workers. Another bill would require that employers with over 100 workers provide work schedules two weeks in advance.

State Rep. Janice Cooper, a Democrat from Yarmouth, sponsored the more comprehensive of the bills. She says many employers already follow some of the provisions of her legislation, such as paying the same hourly wage to part-time workers as full-time workers doing the same job.

She says the legislation is aimed at helping the growing number of Mainers that can't find a full-time job and need two or more part-time jobs to support their families.

"Their shifts were constantly being move around at the last minute, so even though they were working less than a livable wage, it was nearly impossible for them to take on another job to make ends meet," Cooper says.

But representatives of the business community told lawmakers that while well intentioned, the bill could end up costing jobs because employers would have difficulty meeting the requirements.

"It places Maine out of step with every other state in the country," says Peter Gore, vice president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. "It increases the cost of doing business, it will increase work place friction and it will inhibit job growth and opportunities for our citizens."

Representatives of several trade groups also warned lawmakers that the the changes would cost jobs, and others argued that sections of the bills are simply not practical. Bruce Gerrity testified on behalf of the Theater Owners Association.

"Bookings of films that are opening on a Friday are only confirmed on Monday or Tuesday prior to that weekend," he says. "So in many instances there isn't even enough time to notify employees."

Gerrity says the amount of staffers needed for every film varies widely. Carolyn Manson of the Maine Tourism association says many employers in her field simply cannot schedule in advance.

"Tourism industry is very weather dependent and many of our businesses have to adjust their schedules to accommodate the good weather as well as the bad weather," she says. "Weather can cause cancellations or a sellout."

Cooper says her bill was crafted with these concerns in mind.

"I think that the bill is well balanced in that it takes account of the legitimate needs of businesses while also giving workers as much notice as possible."

Cooper's legislation would also require that part-time employees would get the same paid or unpaid time off as full-time employees, have the same eligibility for promotions as full-time employees and have the opportunity to get additional part-time work from an employer before the employer could hire new workers or use temporary staffing services.

Members of the Legislature's Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee will now consider the legislation at work session.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.