Business Support For Raising Maine’s Minimum Wage

By Ramona du Houx

Many Maine businesses are in favor of increasing the minimum wage to a livable wage, like Zeth and Betsy Lundy. The Lundy’s agreed to be photographed by Jeff Kirlin for his series, People at Work: The Low Wage Earners of Maine.

Most of the people in the series, highlighted in this issue, depict some of our fellow neighbors who work for the state’s minimum wage of just $7.50 an hour. Kirlin works in his free time documenting them.

“The photography project was started after I was told by a person in a position to help bring about a higher minimum wage that he didn’t feel it was a real problem because it hasn’t been brought to his personal attention,” said Jeff, a speech therapist and Bangor based photographer. “This project is intended to give not a voice but a platform for those earning low wages, and their supporters, and how their lives are affected by stagnant wages.”

According to the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MCEP), most of the economic recovery since the recession has benefited the highest wage earners, creating stagnant wages with people earning a minimum wage drastically left behind.

“Raising the minimum wage is critical to decreasing childhood poverty,” said Jim Wellehan, founder and owner of Lamey-Wellehan Shoes, who attended a Bangor Town Hall about the minimum wage. “It isn’t right to allow working mothers and Maine’s people to work at today’s low minimum wage.”

 Many small-business owners testified in Augusta in front of lawmakers this spring in favor of eight minimum-wage bills. 

“I’ve started, owned, and invested in several small businesses in Maine over the years, and I would like to let you know that many small-business owners want to see a raise in the minimum wage,” said Stephen Gottlieb of the Maine Small Business Coalition. “When health-care workers, waitresses, or janitors are paid more, they will spend that money in the community—creating more jobs and more small businesses. In this way, with this tide, all the boats rise together.”

The American economic social contract used to ensure someone who worked full-time was able to at least make ends meet. Without indexing, wages have not kept up to cost of living increases, which has steadily eroded the social contract.

“When workers are paid more, they spend more money in their local economies. That helps the whole community, and all businesses do so much better,” said Joe Kubetz, who owns J. K. Landscaping Design in Portland, as he attended a Maine People’s Alliance training conference to collect signatures for a petition to raise the minimum wage in Maine to $12.

On July 28, 2015, small business owners gathered at The Briar Patch bookstore on Central Street in Bangor to announce their support for the campaign to place a minimum wage increase on the ballot in 2016. Supporters spoke about how raising wages improves their communities and their businesses, and unveiled a list of over 150 small business owners from across the state that are publicly supporting the increase.

“Raising the minimum wage is a matter of basic fairness for working Mainers, but it would also make a more level playing field for my business,” said Elena Metzger, owner of Northeast Reprographics, a print and copy shop in downtown Bangor. “I’m competing against large corporations who are not personally invested in the people or community of Bangor. With a higher minimum wage, these big corporations would have to do the right thing like I already do and provide for their employees.”

The last time the minimum wage was raised in Maine was under Governor John Baldacci in 2009. The current $7.50 is a poverty wage and only .25 cents higher than the federal minimum. People working for minimum wage often are full time workers leaving them no time to progress their lives in other ways. Many have said they would like to earn a college degree but can’t even dream to do so on their wages. Many would just like a little cash to shop downtown.

“We support raising the statewide minimum wage because it’s the right thing to do. Anyone who works full-time deserves to be able to support their families and make ends meet. It’s only fair,” said Gibran Graham, marketing manager for The Briar Patch, who also sits on the Bangor City Council. “It’s also good for the local economy. When working Mainers have a little more money in their pockets, they spend it locally at restaurants and stores like this one. The entire community does better.”