After legislative success, Maine minimum wage supporters look to November

After legislative success, Maine minimum wage supporters look to November

“Veto Day” last Friday in Maine saw a flurry of legislative activity as dozens of bills met with final passage or final defeat. It also saw a more subdued end to attempts by a group of corporate lobbyists to derail Maine’s referendum to raise the minimum wage, ensuring that the measure will see an up-or-down vote this November.

“It’s now official: This November, the people of Maine will have the chance to vote to raise the minimum wage to $12 by 2020,” said Amy Halsted, campaign manager for Mainers for Fair Wages. “Legislators clearly felt pressure from Maine workers and small business owners who have come together to say it’s long past time to act.”

The campaign overcame a dedicated and often unorthodox push from some of the Capitol’s most well-connected lobbyists to attach a competing measure and split the pro-minimum-wage vote. During the legislative maneuvering the lobbyists were called out by their own experts for misrepresenting minimum wage research, convinced Senate Republicans to vote for a bill declaring Maine’s low wages to be a state emergency and even ran online ads attempting to trick progressives into contacting their legislators and opposing the minimum wage increase.

In the end, none of the corporate lobby’s tactics were successful and party-line votes in the Democratically-controlled House ensured that the referendum will have a clean shot at the ballot.

“It’s been amazing to see the bipartisan surge of support for raising the minimum wage in the legislature over the past few weeks,” said Halsted. “Even if some of the support was purely tactical, it shows the power of the common-sense idea that no one should be working hard at a full-time job and still be unable to make ends meet for themselves and their family. We look forward to the campaign ahead.”

The referendum will allow Mainers to vote to increase the minimum wage in Maine to $9 in 2017 and then a dollar each year until it reaches $12 in 2020. Further increases would be pegged to the cost of living and the sub-minimum wage for workers who receive tips would be brought up from $3.75 to the full minimum wage after 2024.

Mainers for Fair Wages has now raised more than $400,000 for the referendum campaign, including 5,823 individual contributions averaging less than $40 each. 98% of campaign contributors live in Maine.

Supporters are glad to see the legislative fights over and are optimistic about their chances in November.

“I’m proud to work as a caregiver for people with disabilities and mental illnesses. I have four daughters in college – pursuing the American dream – and I work hard every day to try to help pay for their studies,” said Adelaide Manirakiza, one of the original signers of the referendum petition effort and a homecare worker earning a wage just above the current minimum. “It’s not right that such important work, looking after elderly Mainers and people with disabilities, is valued so little. Raising the minimum wage is the least we should do to help families like mine.”

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