Maine business owners support a clean vote on a real minimum wage increase
At a press conference at the State House on Monday, Maine business owners joined low-wage workers to advocate for a statewide minimum wage increase to $12 an hour by 2020 and to speak against a potential competing measure advanced by lobbyists for the Maine Restaurant Association and the State Chamber of Commerce.
“Their proposal is not a plan to raise the minimum wage. If they actually wanted to raise the minimum wage, they could have supported it last year, when there were eight separate bills put forward to raise it. Instead, they opposed every single one of them,” said Maine Small Business Coalition board member John Costin, owner of Veneer Services Unlimited in Kennebunk. “They are advancing it now as a way of delaying and derailing the referendum process, denying the tens of thousands of Mainers who just signed petitions an up-or-down vote on their initiative and making low-wage workers wait even longer for a raise.”
The lobbyists’ proposal would add a competing alternative to the ballot to instead increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour while also denying further increases based on the cost of living and eliminating the proposed, more-gradual increase to the sub-minimum wage for workers who receive tips. Such a measure has the potential to split the vote on the issue, potentially resulting in no minimum wage increase passing in November or an increase being delayed until another vote can be held in 2017.
The competing measure attempt has drawn the ire of volunteers who helped to place the minimum wage increase on the ballot, many of whom are themselves current or former low-wage workers.
“We worked to make this referendum happen because we know how many people it would help. In fact, we know plenty of them personally,” said Melissa Stevens, a volunteer for Mainers for Fair Wages, “If the corporate lobbyists who are trying to derail the minimum wage initiative want to get a question on the ballot, they should have to do the same. If they think the people are with them, they should stand outside Wal-Mart with a clipboard instead of trying to make a back-room deal in Augusta.”
Contrary to the claims of the corporate lobbyists, Maine business owners who spoke at the event said they anticipate that a significant minimum wage increase will be good for business.
“Every study of minimum wage increases has shown the same effect: when you put more money into the pockets of people making low wages, they spend it locally, creating an economic swell that raises all boats,” said Adam Lee, chairman of Lee Auto Malls. “Legislators shouldn’t be fooled by this attempt to create confusion and delays. They should allow the people of Maine a clean vote on this important and popular policy.”
Participants in the event also spoke in favor of eliminating the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, which has been a particular point of opposition for state and national restaurant lobby groups.
“Last year, Maine Restaurant Association head Greg Dugal stood in this building and warned against the minimum and tipped wage increase in Seattle, which goes much further and much faster than our proposal. He said that after it began in April, we would truly, and I’m quoting here, ‘find out what the effect of an extreme wage can do to a local economy.’ Well, we did find out. Here’s the cover of the Puget Sound Business Journal. The headline is ‘Apocalypse Not: Seattle’s top chefs are opening restaurants at a dizzying pace – the story of the minimum wage meltdown that never happened,'” said Heather McIntosh, a restaurant server from Portland who held up a copy of the newspaper.
Having been certified by the Secretary of State, the minimum wage referendum will soon go before the House and Senate, where they will have a chance to pass the policy outright (which, given the divided chambers, is unlikely), send it out to a vote of the people, or refer it to a committee for hearings and the possible attachment of a competing measure.
Photo: Lee Auto Malls chairman Adam Lee speaks in favor of a clean vote on a $12 minimum wage by 2020.
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