Two years of grassroots campaigning led to Maine’s minimum wage increase this week

Two years of grassroots campaigning led to Maine’s minimum wage increase this week

Maine’s first minimum wage increase in eight years went into effect this week following two years of grassroots organizing by minimum wage supporters, first collecting signatures to place the issue on the 2016 ballot and then backing the campaign in favor of Question 4. The effort was supported by hundreds of volunteers, thousands of small-dollar donors and, eventually, more than 420,000 voters on Election Day.

103,000 Mainers will see a little more in their paychecks beginning this week, as the minimum wage increases from $7.50 to $9 an hour and the subminimum wage for workers who receive tips will increase from $3.75 to $5 an hour.

“It will make a huge difference to make that little bit more an hour. It makes it more possible to support yourself and support your family,” said Liz McArthur, a restaurant server and single mother living in Lewiston.

“The other night when I went into work I actually made no money because it was icy out and no one came in except one table and the other server got the table. Right now with tips half the time I don’t even get paid the minimum wage per hour, the $7.50,” said McArthur, who supports her three-year-old daughter and is working her way through nursing school waiting tables.

The minimum wage increase won the support of 55.5% of the electorate and was popular across the state, winning by wide margins everywhere from Cumberland and York to Aroostook and Washington counties. Over 600 small business owners from across Maine also publicly supported the referendum.

The minimum wage will continue to increase each January until it reaches $12 in 2020, after which it will be indexed to inflation. The subminimum wage for workers who receive tips will gradually increase until it reaches the full minimum wage in 2027.

Those who will see an increase include the parents of 43,000 children and more than one in three workers over the age of 65.

“I never thought I’d still be working at my age, let alone for $7.50 an hour, but I’ve learned I’m far from alone,” said Kathy Rondone, a 72-year-old from Augusta who had retired but was forced to return to work when her husband of 40 years was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. “I don’t think people realize how many senior citizens often have to keep working after what you might think is retirement age.”

Governor Paul LePage and lobbyists representing business interests have promised to attempt to roll back portions of the new law in the legislature and cut workers’ wages, but they’ll face strong opposition from a minimum wage movement energized by their success at the ballot.

“The people of Maine have spoken clearly and the minimum wage increase is now law. Today, it’s a little easier for tens of thousands of Maine mothers to feed their families and we’re that much closer to creating an economy that works for everyone,” said Mainers for Fair Wages campaign manager Amy Halsted.

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