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  • Lawmaker proposes bill to increase Maine's minimum wage

                            by Ramona du Houx

    Melaragno cites new report showing lack of living wage jobs in Maine

    Members of the Maine People's Alliance hosted a press conference today to release the latest figures on the "job gap" - the divide between what Maine workers need to earn to afford basic necessities and what available jobs in Maine actually pay - and joined State Representative Gina Melaragno of Auburn as she unveiled her bill to increase the minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020.

    Low Wage Nation, a report published by the national Alliance for a Just Society, calculates a living wage in each state and then reports the number of job seekers per living wage job open in the state. According to the findings, more than half of Maine jobs don't pay a living wage.

    "I think this report reinforces what many of us already know: that it is getting harder and harder to find a job in Maine that makes ends meet," said Rep. Melaragno. "Poll after poll shows that Mainers support increasing the minimum wage. At a time when so many Mainers are struggling in part-time, low-wage jobs, we can't afford to wait."

    The report calculated that a living wage for a single adult with no children working full-time in Maine is $15.82 an hour. For a single adult with two children a living wage is $28.86. The minimum wage in Maine is currently $7.50 an hour. The report further finds that for a single adult in Maine, more than half of the available jobs in Maine pay below a living wage. Additionally, there are 12 people competing for every job opening that pays $15 an hour.

    Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci has proposed a municipal ordinance to increase Bangor’s minimum wage. In order to widen the discussion the Councilor is hosting a town hall to hear from people and for speakers to present their viewpoints on increasing the minimum wage on April 9, at the Abraham Lincoln school in Bangor.

    "If we want to reward work and help the overall income raising the minimum wage, which has been frozen for 5 1/2 years, is absolutely necessary. I thank State Representative Gina Melaragno of Auburn for her work on this," said Councilor Baldacci.

    For Katie McDaniel, a mother from Auburn working a full-time, low-wage job wasn't enough to cover basic expenses.

    "I was making just over minimum wage at about eight dollars an hour, newly single with a 6 year old trying to find appropriate housing after my marriage failed," McDaniel said. "No matter how I tried, there was no way I could afford $900 to $1,000 a month for rent. I am finally going back to school so I can someday have a job that pays better. You cannot afford to have a place to live, electricity, food, health care, and a way to commute on only $7.50 an hour."

    Nicole King, a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) from Sidney, spoke about her struggles to get ahead on a low wage.

    "At my job, I take care of elderly people with dementia, it's exhausting work - emotionally and physically taxing," said King. "I've been an hourly wage-earner my entire career and in over 6 years I've received a total raise of 25 cents. The wage I make as a CNA doesn't recognize the skill or commitment that I bring to my work, and it's obvious that there's really no opportunity for me to move up the wage scale. A minimum wage increase would give me and my family a shot at making ends meet. It would mean that my work was recognized and valued, by lawmakers and by business owners."

    Jim Wellehan, owner of Lamey Wellehan shoe stores and a nationally-recognized advocate for fair wages, joined in speaking in favor of raising the minimum wage.

    "My father started our business in 1914, and the people who worked for the company have been my friends throughout my life," said Wellehan. "Dad believed in treating people well and fairly, and I carry on that philosophy today. I want to make sure that my employees can work 40 hours, put food on their family's table, live in a decent home, and still put some away. When we raise the minimum wage, everyone benefits. Not only would families have more money in their pockets, they'd spend it at local businesses like mine."

    Rep. Melaragno has submitted legislation that would increase the minimum wage in Maine to $12 an hour over 5 years, phasing in at a less than a dollar increase annually. The increase is indexed to the average wage - so as high-wage earners see increases in their pay, so do low wage workers at the same proportion.

    The bill also ensures that all workers will be paid equally by adding a yearly increase to the tipped minimum wage by $.75 until it is equal to the state minimum wage. The current tipped minimum wage is $3.75, half of the state minimum wage.
    “A provision on the tipped wage is a critical component to making sure all Mainers are paid a fair wage. Tipped workers are among the lowest paid workers in the country, even when accounting for tips,” said Amy Halsted, Associate Director of the Maine People's Alliance. “Most tipped wage workers are women, many are mothers trying to support families. Whether a tipped wage worker makes enough to support her family shouldn’t be left to the whim of her customers. All Maine workers deserve to be paid an equal wage.”

    "As an hourly wage-earner myself, in both the retail and healthcare industries - I know firsthand what it's like living paycheck to paycheck," said Rep. Melaragno. "I want to make sure my constituents like Katie McDaniel can work full time and support her family. If we want to succeed as a state we need to make sure that everyone is paid a fair wage and everyone gets a fair shot."