ME’s statewide efforts to increase the minimum wage

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Maine lawmakers proposed eight bills to raise the wage—

Lawmakers on March 23rd held public hearings in Augusta on eight separate proposed bills related to raising the minimum wage. During the last legislative session, Governor Paul LePage vetoed all minimum-wage bills.

“We need to raise wages across the board. All throughout Maine, working families are living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to make ends meet. Workers’ wages are simply not keeping pace with rising costs. Raising the minimum wage is a first step in a larger effort to build an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few,” stated Maine AFL-CIO Executive Director Matt Schlobohm.

Many small business owners testified in favor of a wage increase.

“I’ve started, owned, and invested in several small businesses in Maine over the years, and I would like to let you know that many small business owners want to see a raise to the minimum wage,” said Stephen Gottlieb of the Maine Small Business Coalition. “When health-care workers, waitresses, or janitors are paid more, they will spend that money in the community—creating more jobs and more small businesses. In this way, with this tide, all the boats rise together.”

Zeth, and Betsy Lundy with their children. photo by Jeff Kirlin.

“Being a small business owner is hard, and paying a living wage is never easy, but I don’t think we could be completely proud of the business we have built and its role in the community if we weren’t paying our employees a living wage. There have been times that we have not paid ourselves so that we can pay our employees an amount of money that they can live on, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We are successful because of who they are and because of their commitment to making this store work. We aspire to offer them more, and would be embarrassed to offer them less than a living wage,” said Zeth Ludy. photo by Jeff Kirlin

The American economic social contract used to ensure someone who worked full time was able to at least make ends meet. Without indexing wages have not kept up to cost of living increases, which has steadily eroded the social contract.

“Maine workers find themselves working at least full time but still living in or near poverty, while having to care for their families at the same time,” said Rep. Gina Melaragno, D-Auburn, who submitted An Act to Raise the Minimum Wage and Index It to the National Average Wage. “They have seen the prices of everything go up except the price of their undervalued labor, and they are tired of being thrown a small token raise every five or six years. They want meaningful, lasting change.”
Statewide referendum—

A Maine People's Alliance training for volunteers to collect signatures for a statewide petition to create a referendum to increase the minimum wage to $12.

A Maine People’s Alliance training for volunteers to collect signatures for a statewide petition to create a referendum to increase the minimum wage to $12.

The Maine People’s Alliance (MPA) is gathering signatures for a 2016 referendum that would create a statewide minimum wage of $12 an hour by 2020.

“I work full time and still struggle to make ends meet. Families like mine work hard and deserve to be paid a fair wage. That means more than our current minimum wage of just $300 per week. No family can live on that,” said Katie McDaniel, a mother and convenience store worker from Auburn, who came for a training to collect signatures for the MPA petition drive. “I’m really excited to be a part of this campaign to make sure that all families have a chance to succeed.”

The MPA’s Mainers for Fair Wages citizens’ initiative would raise Maine’s minimum wage to $9 in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that it would increase at the same rate as the cost of living. The initiative would also incrementally raise the tipped minimum wage, until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024.

“When workers are paid more, they spend more money in their local economies. That helps the whole community, and all businesses do so much better,” said Joe Kubetz, who owns J K Landscaping Design in Portland, when he attended a training conference.

The EPI estimates that gradually increasing the wage to $12 per hour would give over 120,000 Maine workers—more than a fifth of the state’s workforce—a raise.

EPI calculates that of those who would benefit from a $12 minimum wage:

• 60 percent are women employees.
• 85 percent are over the age of 20.
• 75 percent work in service, sales, and office and administrative support occupations.
• 75 percent work in retail, education and health services, leisure and hospitality.
• 40,000 are children who have at least one parent who would get a raise.

These figures are underestimates, since they don’t count workers who would be likely to get a raise indirectly as employers reset their pay scales.

From an article by Ramona du Houx in Maine Insights.

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