By Heinrick Snyder
I attended the public discussion on raising the minimum wage in Bangor on July 15 at City Hall. My fellow residents were very articulate in expressing their opinions and concerns on both sides of the issue. But the basic truth is that “all politics are local.”
If our city makes the courageous decision to raise the minimum wage, it will be easier to raise at the state and federal levels. Within the bounds of our local governance, we should not be afraid to exercise ideas that will better our residents and economy. There is too much hope in the experiences of other American communities like Seattle and Los Angeles that enacted such city ordinances. We cannot hesitate in arguments of fear when change will happen anyway. Our choice to change with a heart of hope will grow an economy more than the fear of inflation caused by improving the value our residents’ basic work time.
I do expect that a market correction will occur over several years after any minimum wage change. Thus, the purchasing power of $9 an hour, or whatever, will be equal to or less than $7.50 today. So, we’ll revisit this issue within the next decade.
I do believe that the proposal can be improved to incorporate the earnest concerns mentioned in the discussion among the councilors. Hopefully, that happens at the July 27 meeting as councilors Josh Plourde and Patricia Blanchette hope.
In fairness to my fellow workers, there is a fear among some of them that there will be a compression of wages and their relational value as skilled workers to the overall economy will be eroded if the minimum wage is raised. They have consistently favored the position of most of the other retail and food service business owners who were at the meeting. But I agree with those who say the money generated by increasing the minimum wage will improve our economy and expand the opportunities for wealth in our community.
But the most intriguing idea came from Councilor Gibran Graham’s 17-year-old daughter. She spoke of an engineering concept that encourages greater risk and innovative, creative solutions — thinking outside the box. In her remark, I hear questions to ask of us. “Why are we having this discussion?” Should the youthful spirit among us be encouraged to transform this for the next conversation? She reminded me of my view that engineering and architecture is the creation of structure that anticipates the economic movement within its frame.
Money is a system of imagination. It is a structure of culture and tradition — a belief system — a box within which we translate our human value and action into the stuff of life. Our minimum wage discussion, in Maine and our nation, is very much an echo of a more than 100-year tradition. If the young among us want a better public discussion on the value of work — if we want to improve the ability of our fellow citizens to participate in Bangor’s economy — then we have to create a space where that possibility is more realistic.
I think that we have to get past labor ledger lines and dollar signs and ask, “What is needed to improve the quality with which we value each other?” We have to get past the coalescence of financial power that indentures so much human beauty, sincerity and fight and restricts our imagination to child’s play, video screens and gated communities. Like “Undercover Boss” so often exemplifies, we need to hear the hopes and dreams and stories of our co-workers and citizens and, together, dare to aspire. How do we do that?
Heinrick Snyder of Bangor is a shift leader at Papa Gambino’s, an organist at the Kenduskeag Union Church, a board member of Food AND Medicine and a contributing choreographer of the Bangor Ballet.