This story contains a correction. See Editor's note below.
The 30-second ad (above), featuring a black-and-white photo of a 19th century child laborer, and newspaper clips of Gov. Paul LePage's effort to remove a mural depicting Maine's labor history, plays out against a pensive musical soundtrack.
VOICEOVER: "Gov. Paul LePage wants to roll back child labor laws."
ON SCREEN: Photo, Gov. Paul LePage.
TEXT: He supports legislation to have kids work longer hours, later at night and for less than minimum wage.
ON SCREEN: "LePage orders removal of labor mural, sparking outcry" - The Sun Journal "Maine Erases Labor History" - The Star-Ledger
VOICEOVER: "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it."
ON SCREEN: Photo of girl working at factory.
VOICEOVER: "Tell Gov. Paul LePage: Protect our children. Don't roll back child labor laws."
The ad closes with the telephone number for the governor's office and a suggestion to contact him if the viewer objects to L.D.s 1346 and 516, two Republican-sponsored bills in the Legislature, one of which LePage supports. The ad will conclude it's week-long run on Maine cable television stations this week.
The ad is sponsored by two progressive, pro-labor organizations--the Maine People's Alliance and the National Employment Law Project.
"The reason our organization decided to get involved with putting a television ad on the air is that we know that protecting children from exploitation and allowing them to receive a fair paycheck for their work are both extremely popular and important to the public in Maine," says Anne Thompson, of the National Employment Law Project.
Thompson says both of the bills before the Maine Legislature would erase current protections for teenage workers. L.D. 1346 proposes that workers under age 20 be paid as little as $5.25 an hour for as long as six months as a so-called training wage -- rather than Maine's $7.50 per hour minimum wage. It also would remove any limits on the number of hours that children 16 or older can work on school days. LePage has not yet taken a position on the bill.
L.D. 516, which has been narrowly approved by the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, would increase the hours a student can work during the school day by pushing the 10 p.m. limit on youth work hours to 11 p.m. It also raises the maximum number of hours a teen could work each week from 20 to 24. LePage says he supports the bill.
Mike Tipping of the Maine People's Alliance says there's been no demonstrated support for the bills, which he says are part of an ongoing national effort to erode workers' rights.
"There is only one person who spoke in favor of the most draconian of these laws and that was its own sponsor," Tipping says. "There's not an outcry to create this lower-paid, longer-worked class of young people working in Maine, and I really don't understand why we're considering this, given the damage it would do to both the young people and the future of our state."
"Nobody objects when a kid gets on the bus at 2 p.m. and doesn't get home until 11 o'clock at night, nine hours later, because he or she is off playing a sport--some of those kids are working way more hours than 20," says Sen. Debra Plowman, a Hampden Republican.
Plowman is a little miffed that the two progressive organizations decided to roll her L.D. 516 in with the bill that would subject teen workers to lower pay--a proposal that Plowman says is not apt to receive even the same level of support in committee next week as her legislation did.
Right now, Plowman says Maine employers can be fined for allowing a teen worker to exceed their limited hour schedule by as little as 10 minutes, and that in many cases the young employees could use the extra money for college or other expenses.
But House Democratic Leader Emily Cain, of Orono, says, if passed, Plowman's bill will only result in a further push to exceed the work week limitations for teens. "This bill will only put kids at risk of exhaustion, of choosing their work over their school work, which we don't want to see happen, and I don't believe, at the end of the day, will make anything better for Maine businesses," Cain says.
Gov, Paul LePage was not available for comment, but his spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, says the office has only received about 20 calls--mostly from out of state--in response to the child labor ad.
While LePage does support Sen. Plowman's bill, Bennett says he has not yet taken a position on the training wage bill. She says the ad's inference that the governor would support a return to pre-industrial revoluation labor practices is "ridiculous."
EDITOR'S NOTE: In a previous version of this story we reported that the LePage Administration supports both bills. That is incorrect. The story should have stated that the LePage administration supports one bill but has not yet taken a position on the other one that would create a training wage for teenage workers and remove limits on the number of hours that children 16 or older can work on school days. We regret the error.