Portland business owners overwhelmingly support raising Maine’s minimum wage

Portland business owners overwhelmingly support raising Maine’s minimum wage

A membership survey released on Tuesday by Portland Buy Local found that 69% of member business owners support the citizen initiative advanced by Mainers for Fair Wages to increase the statewide minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020.

Only 12% of the 105 respondents to the survey expressed opposition to the proposal to raise the statewide minimum wage to $9 an hour in 2017 and a dollar a year after that until it reaches $12 in 2020, which will likely be on the ballot in November, 2016, while 19% were undecided.

“The minimum wage must be raised for the sake of Maine’s workers and for the health of Maine’s economy,” wrote one business owner in a comment on the survey. “Allowing businesses to pay starvation wages is also unfair to their competitors that actually do the right thing and pay fair wages.”

Retail and the restaurant/hospitality sector were the industries most represented in the survey, accounting for 32% and 26% of respondents, respectively.

Roughly half of respondents currently pay their hourly employees a starting wage lower than $12 an hour, with 30% paying a starting wage of less than $10.10.

“I think a living wage is important, especially in a high-priced rent environment like Portland. I don’t want my employees to be living hand-to-mouth any more than they have to. I have paid my workers $10 an hour since I opened 6 years ago, far ahead of this initiative,” wrote one business owner.

The numbers are generally similar to a recent poll of likely 2015 Portland voters, which found 76% in favor of the statewide minimum wage increase.

66% of respondents to the Buy Local survey also expressed support for the new minimum wage ordinance passed by the Portland City Council, which increased the local minimum wage to $10.10 in 2016, but doesn’t increase the base wage for tipped employees (the statewide initiative would gradually eliminate the sub-minimum, tipped wage by 2024). Only 28% of respondents supported a municipal initiative on the ballot this November to increase the local minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2017 for small businesses and by 2019 for large businesses.

Portland business owners aren’t alone. In July, more than 150 small businesses across the state announced their public support for the referendum. The initiative also has the endorsement of the Maine Small Business Coalition.

According to some Portland business owners surveyed, the proposal actually doesn’t go far enough.

“While the statewide effort is an improvement, I don’t think $12 by 2020 is sufficient,” wrote one business owner. “We should be paying people a living wage, period.”

Photo via Flickr/Corey Templeton

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