Small businesses declare support for minimum wage ballot campaign in Bangor, Maine

From Maine Insights. Full article go to: Small businesses announce support for minimum wage ballot campaign in Bangor, Maine

Elena Metzger, owner of Northeast Reprographics, a print and copy shop in downtown Bangor. Courtesy photo.

Elena Metzger, owner of Northeast Reprographics, a print and copy shop in downtown Bangor. Courtesy photo.

By Ramona du Houx

On July 28, 2015, small business owners gathered at The Briar Patch bookstore on Central Street in Bangor to announce their support for the campaign to place a minimum wage increase on the ballot in 2016. Supporters spoke about how raising wages improves their communities and their businesses, and unveiled a list of over 150 small business owners from across the state that are publicly supporting the increase.

“Raising the minimum wage is a matter of basic fairness for working Mainers, but it would also make a more level playing field for my business,” said Elena Metzger, owner of Northeast Reprographics, a print and copy shop in downtown Bangor. “I’m competing against large corporations who are not personally invested in the people or community of Bangor. With a higher minimum wage, these big corporations would have to do the right thing like I already do and provide for their employees.”

The last time the minimum wage was raised in Maine was under Governor John Baldacci in 2009. The current $7.50 is a poverty wage and only .25 cents higher than the federal minimum. People working for minimum wage often are full time workers leaving them no time to progress their lives in other ways. Many have said they would like to earn a college degree but can’t even dream to do so on their wages. Many would just like a little cash to shop downtown.

“We support raising the statewide minimum wage because it’s the right thing to do. Anyone who works full-time deserves to be able to support their families and make ends meet. It’s only fair,” said Gibran Graham, marketing manager for The Briar Patch, who also sits on the Bangor City Council. “It’s also good for the local economy. When working Mainers have a little more money in their pockets, they spend it locally at restaurants and stores like this one. The entire community does better.”

In April, the Maine People’s Alliance and Maine AFL-CIO submitted paperwork to launch a citizens’ initiative to 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.

“I want to make sure my friends, family, and neighbors can work full-time and have a chance to get ahead and maybe someday start a business like I was able to do,” said Jonathan Fulford, who lives in Monroe and owns Artisan Builders, a custom home building and general contractor service. “That’s the American Dream for many and it’s not possible on three-hundred dollars a week.”

Signature collection began in early June with a series of grassroots kick off events across the state. In less than two months the campaign has reached the quarter-mark in its goal to collect 85,000 signatures by the January qualifying deadline and has received over 2,000 grassroots contributions totaling more than $170,000 from Mainers across the state, including from hundreds of small business owners.

“The more than 150 business owners who offered their public support for the campaign at this early stage know that raising the minimum wage will be a boon for businesses and employees alike,” said Will Ikard director of the Maine Small Business Coalition, which organized the event. “Small business owners know first-hand the benefits of investing in their workers, and we expect this early enthusiasm to grow as the campaign continues.”

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