After massive volunteer effort, signatures submitted to raise Maine’s minimum wage

After massive volunteer effort, signatures submitted to raise Maine’s minimum wage

Mainers for Fair Wages has submitted more than 76,000 verified signatures to the Maine Secretary of State to place an increase in the minimum wage on the November ballot, far more than the 61,123 required. The event was marked with a media event in the State House Hall of Flags on Thursday featuring 17 speakers from across the state, almost all of them low-income workers who volunteered on the campaign.

“I’m a single mother and I know what it’s like to work low wage jobs and not be able to make ends meet. On $8 an hour it was impossible to afford basic necessities for my family like childcare, transportation and keeping a roof over our heads. While I was working full time I still needed to rely on food assistance to be able to feed my family,” said Melissa Stevens of Lewiston, who also emceed the rally. “I joined the minimum wage campaign last fall to collect signatures to support this initiative and I am thrilled to be here today with so many community leaders from all walks of life as we submit far more than enough signatures to place this referendum on the ballot.”

Mainers for Fair Wages, a coalition including the Maine People’s Alliance, Maine Small Business Coalition, and Maine AFL-CIO, launched the petition process for a citizen initiative to raise Maine’s minimum wage in June. If passed, the initiative would increase the minimum wage to $9 per hour in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that the wage would increase at the same rate as the cost of living. The initiative would also incrementally raise the sub-minimum tipped wage until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024.

“When working Mainers make a decent living, they spend that extra money in our communities. It’s good for the whole economy, including my business,” said Adam Lee, Chairman of Lee Auto Malls, one of more than 200 business owners who have already endorsed the referendum. “In the last year and a half Lee Auto Malls has raised our starting wage from $9 to $10 and six months ago we raised it to $11 per hour. It’s the right thing and the smart thing to do.”

Raising the state minimum wage would directly affect more than 130,000 low-wage workers in Maine, most of them women and many of them supporting families, according to calculations by the Economic Policy Institute.

“I am working as a tipped worker at a restaurant and a boost in my base wage would mean that I would not have to rely solely on tips in order to support myself,” said Esther Pew of Portland. “It’s hard to stick to a budget and be financially responsible when your wages can fluctuate drastically from one shift to the next. Getting a steady paycheck from my employer, and not just tips from my customers, would be a boost for me and thousands of tipped workers, mostly women, working in restaurants all over Maine.”

According to Mainers for Fair Wages, the submission of signatures marks the end of the first phase of their people-powered campaign and the beginning of the next. The ballot question committee has already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from supporters giving contributions average just over $30 each and the campaign will seek to increase and strengthen that broad base of support in the months between now and November.

The office of the Secretary of State now has 30 days to review the petitions before referring the initiative to the legislature, which can choose to enact it without change or allow it to be placed on the November ballot.

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