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Portland, Maine will try again to set higher minimum wage citywide

The following is part of the article in the Portland Press Herald.

Averil Burner, a server at David’s in Portland, waits on customers. Portland city councilors will consider ways to give tipped employees a higher minimum wage without putting an extra burden on restaurant owners. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Averil Burner, a server at David’s in Portland, waits on customers. Portland city councilors will consider ways to give tipped employees a higher minimum wage without putting an extra burden on restaurant owners. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The Portland City Council will take another whack at raising the minimum wage in the city Wednesday night, two months after its effort to increase it to $10.10 an hour got tripped up over how much tipped employees will earn.

The council adopted the higher minimum in early July, joining about two dozen other towns, cities or counties that have adopted higher floors for wages. The federal and state minimum wages, $7.25 an hour and $7.50 an hour, respectively, haven’t increased in six years.

But the council, apparently inadvertently, also raised the tipped minimum wage – the amount that workers, primarily those in restaurants, are paid by their employers, with the rest of their earnings expected to come in the form of tips.

That minimum wage in Maine is currently $3.75 an hour. That’s what the employer pays, with tips added on. If the server doesn’t make the minimum wage, the employer is supposed to make up the difference between the tipped employee minimum and the amount earned in tips and the overall minimum wage.

When the council upped the overall minimum to $10.10 in July, it also increased the tipped minimum to $6.35 a hour, increasing the amount that servers would get from their employers. In Portland, it’s not unusual for servers to earn more than $20 or $30 an hour, almost all of it from tips.

Restaurant owners complained that they were told by the city that the tipped minimum wouldn’t increase.

The council quickly suspended the new law, which is otherwise due to take effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

Mayor Michael Brennan said the council will consider a few different ways of re-setting the tipped minimum Wednesday, to make sure that tipped workers will get a raise, while not putting an extra burden on the city’s booming restaurant industry.

“We’re looking for a fair way of making sure that all employees get an increase,” he said.

A city committee had been grappling with the measure for months and the language was written by city lawyers. But Brennan and several councilors said they thought that the measure they adopted in July would leave the tipped minimum unchanged.

Brennan said $10.10 is a figure that he thinks can provide a boost to workers’ wages without leading employers to cut jobs because of the added labor costs.

A competing measure, to raise the minimum to $15 an hour, will be on the ballot this fall and it would increase the base wage for tip earners to $11.25 an hour by 2019.

A poll by the Maine People’s Alliance – which is gathering signatures for a 2016 ballot measure that would raise the statewide minimum to $12 an hour by 2020 – showed broad support for raising the minimum wage in the city.

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