Currently showing posts tagged Jobs in Maine

  • Democrats' policy plans for A Better State of Maine will help families, businesses thrive

    Policies on infrastructure, competitive advantages, vibrant communities to get Maine back on track

    Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

    At a public forum at Mt. Ararat High School, Democratic leaders from the Maine Legislature on September 21, 2016 unveiled “A Better State of Maine,” their vision to build a state where young families and businesses can realize the American Dream by living in healthy, vibrant communities with good paying jobs.Democrats plan to achieve their vision with smart policies that modernize infrastructure, build on the state’s competitive advantages and support the the state's special creative economy.

    “Maine’s success depends on our ability to keep our next generation in state and to bring new people as well. We can do that through smart, targeted strategies to make Maine an attractive place for families, entrepreneurs, workers and small business owners,” said Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dawn Hill. “Our vision calls for needed investments in our infrastructure, capitalizing on our competitive advantages, equipping young people with the skills they need to compete and policies that support vibrant communities.”

    The policy rollout discussion was wide-ranging and touched on some of Maine’s most challenging problems:

    • Maine's population is the oldest state in the Nation. The majority of workers- in the next ten years- will be of retirement age, leaving huge institutional gaps in the workforce, and creating a greater need to help the elderly retire with dignity and proper healthcare.
    • Not only is our populous aging, so is our infrastructure. The state needs road, bridge and railroad upgrades.
    • Broadband service has to cover all of Maine and cities need to accomidate middle class incomes with affordable housing.
    • Young college graduates are moving out of the state to find jobs that pay decent salaries. And while the medium income is around $30,000 for the Second District, it's $50,000 in the 1st, this disparity needs to be addressed.

    “Maine is losing its young people as they are forced to look for opportunity elsewhere. We need solutions that help young families build their lives in Maine and that revitalize our economy – one cannot happen without the other,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon. “The consequences for our state are dire if we remain on this trajectory. But the right policies can get us back on track.”

    “A Better State of Maine” recognizes that the next generation is our greatest asset and that policymakers must embrace policies that make it possible for young people to build long, prosperous lives in Maine. The number of retirement-aged Mainers is growing and will continue to do so while the number of working-age Mainers will shrink, if there's no policy interventions, according to projections by Maine’s state economist.

    What most people don't realize is that Democrats have been stoically working on all the above issues, while the LePage administration has been obstructing their efforts.

    House Speaker Mark Eves, and Senator Justin Alfond did get laws or reviews passed, some with funding, for all of the above. The bills were drastically watered down from their initial proposals but, and this is an important point, they started the ball rolling. With each session, these laws could and should be strengthened.

    In order to accomplish anything in state government, every bill takes baby steps before it becomes established with larger programs. This is especially true if there is a dramatic divide on how to accomplish these goals.

    At present the LePage administration is opposed to the majority of Democratic initiatives. Democrats want bonds to help in all the above and in research and development. These kinds of bonds have proven to grow the economy with good paying jobs and benefits. So, in order to grow Maine's economy Democrats need majorities in the House and Senate to get needed initiatives passed.

    They identified what policies that will help Maine regain its competitive edge:

    • Strengthening the backbone of Maine’s economy through targeted investments in transportation, broadband and energy;
    • Capitalize on Maine’s competitive advantages, including aquaculture and agriculture, the state’s high-value brand and heritage industries;
    • and Prioritizing policies that support vibrant communities where young families can thrive and equip young people with the work skills they need to make a good living. These include effective training and education opportunities, investments in early childhood and schools and policies to encourage home ownership.
  • LLoyd’s Bistro in Damariscotta supports raising Maine’s minimum wage

    By Will Ikard, director of the Maine Small Business Coalition, which represents more than four thousand small business owners across Maine.

    From an interview  with Torie DeLisle of Van Lloyd’s Bistro in Damariscotta about her restaurant, which she founded in 2015 with her husband August and father-in-law Bernie. Van LLoyd’s is one of more than 60 restaurants across the state that support the campaign to raise Maine’s minimum wage. In June, they participated in the Maine Small Business Coalition’s Fair Wage Restaurant Week.

    What is Van Lloyd’s Bistro?

    Van Lloyd’s is a full-service bistro and cocktail bar in Damariscotta. We see it as an experiment in real food. We believe in making everything from scratch, and allowing our culinary interests to take the menu to places that challenge and delight our diners with our variety and creativity.

    Why do you support the referendum to raise Maine’s minimum wage? Since you employee tipped servers, why do you support the effort to gradually phase out the subminimum wage for tipped employees?

    Because it’s the right thing to do. Commission-based mindsets often lead to negative and competitive work environments and encourage workers and owners to think about these job as disposable – not as a long-term position where employees are valued and fairly compensated.

    As small business owners, what do you see as your role in your community?

    To bring people together. As a restaurant, we want to be a place for people to gather and meet others in the community. It always makes us smile when we see separate groups of diners interacting, building connections they did not have before.

    I know you’ve been outspoken about the need for Americans to act to combat the effects of climate change. How does sustainability fit into your business model?

    I think I would have to say that food sustainability is hugely important to August and I personally, and to the business, and we support local organic growers because we want to encourage the sufficiency and sustainability of the region. Not only that, the quality is just so far superior you don’t have to disguise your ingredients by cooking them, you get to showcase their natural beauty. This Summer Van Lloyd’s is foraying into locally farmed sea-greens as a sustainable local product in several dishes.

  • Pingree uses her Appropriations Committee position to get programs that benefit veterans and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard


    Committee approves Pingree requests for $75 million in spending for PNSY and directs VA to improve health care and homeless services for vets 

    Photo of US Congresswoman Chellie Piengree, by Ramona du Houx

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree used her position on the powerful House Appropriations Committee to get numerous provisions into a defense bill that will help veterans, including those seeking care in the VA, homeless female veterans, veterans who need service dogs and the families of veterans.  Pingree also was able to insure that the bill contains $75 million in funding to maintain and modernize the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

    "The men and women who have put on a uniform and served this country deserve the best health care available and the right kind of support when they make the transition back to civilian life.  But the sad truth is they don't always get that," Pingree said.  "We need to keep pushing the VA to improve programs like VA Choice and provide services to homeless vets and vets who are risk of becoming homeless."

    Pingree was able to insert language into the FY2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act to direct the VA to provide equal treatment and assistance to homeless female veterans and their children, to hire outside contractors to improve access to the VA Choice program in underserved areas and to expand research into the use of service dogs to treat veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

     Pingree also used her position on the Committee to secure funding for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

    "The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is one of the most efficient and best run in the country. They maintain the highest standards and stay on budget and on schedule.  But to remain competitive and to protect the jobs in Kittery, we need to make sure the yard has the resources to modernize and maintain the facilities there," Pingree said. 

    Pingree was able to support the inclusion of over $75 million in the bill, including:

    • $27 million to replace a century-old medical and dental clinic;
    • $30 million to build an electrical substation and improve utilities needed to protect nuclear subs; and
    • $18 million to expand housing to accommodate Naval personnel stationed in Kittery.

    The bill was passed by the House Appropriations Committee today, but still must be taken up by the full House.

  • FocusMaine—aims to grow jobs and the economy using Maine’s identified strengths

    By Ramona du Houx

    More than 50 leading figures in Maine’s business, academic and political circles have become committed to ending the state’s economic stagnation. Their group, FocusMaine, aims to work with three promising industries in a concerted effort to grow 20,000 to 30,000 jobs over the next 10 years across the state.

    After FocusMaine concluded it’s first project, a $100,000 survey of Maine’s economic landscape by global research firm McKinsey & Co., the consortium announced the group’s objectives to the press.

    “We thought, ‘If we’re going to do this, let’s let the data drive the process and be the decision maker,’” said Mike Dubyak, chairman of the board of directors for WEX and its former president and CEO.

    “FocusMaine made it a core principle to identify three industries that offer the greatest potential to grow traded jobs in the state,” wrote Karen G. Mills is a senior advisor at the Harvard Business School, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and part of the leadership team of FocusMaine in an Op-ed in MaineBiz with Dubyak.

    The survey identified three key sectors where jobs would grow exponentially, raising incomes and the quality of life for all of Maine.

    Salmon in a DownEast hatchery. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “Agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals were chosen because Maine's inherent strengths in these sectors allow to us to compete nationally and even internationally in those growing markets,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    In aquaculture U.S. fish consumption has risen by 23 percent since 1990, and we import almost 90 percent of select fish products, most of which are farm raised. Maine has many small aquaculture operations; some who don’t want to get any bigger, while others do but they’ll need to build connections with businesses, gain advice and even get to know potential investors. FocusMaine could become the bridge that would connect Maine’s entrepreneurs with the expertise and people they need to know.

    The same could be said for the agriculture sector that has had an influx of young organic famers, but lack connections that could help their operations flourish. The number of farmers aged 34 and younger grew by nearly 40 percent from 2007 to 2012, during the same time there was an increase in 1,326 agricultural jobs—during the recession, while other jobs declined.

    There has been 10 percent annual growth in pharmaceutical contract research and manufacturing from 2005 to 2011 in Maine. As a strong biopharmaceutical cluster in Massachusetts continues to expand and their Boston based will need more affordable locations for manufacturing, and Maine fits the bill.

    Dubyak has been avidly working with Pierce Atwood partner Andrea Cianchette-Maker, co-chairwoman of the FocusMaine leadership team with Dubyak to develop Focus Maine, which has dozens of banks, policy-people, business and education leaders on board with the objective to grow Maine’s economy. FocusMaine’s mission is to be a catalyst to accelerate growth, helping insure that companies large and small in these three industries have the resources to grow, compete and create jobs.

    “We have to develop the high priority strategies and which of those would require or benefit from government support,” said Cianchette-Maker.

    Hence there are teams focused on political, academic and research aspects of developing the 10-year plan. Its government advisory group includes former Gov. John Baldacci and former Gov. John McKernan.

    “I'm very proud to be part of this first class team of job creators. The focus isn't trying to be everything to everybody. We’ll take a few key sectors and become the world's best in those fields — agriculture, aquaculture and the life sciences manufacturing. I believe with more jobs in these sectors it will create a picture that ties all Maine together,” said Former Governor John E. Baldacci.

    The principle leaders of FocusMaine have built smaller organizations into larger ones. Hence they are turning their skills to smaller businesses with the potential to expand. The list of over 50 leading Maine figures on FocuMaine’s website speaks volumes about the seriousness of the group.

    “What it will take is a sustained, collaborative effort, which we know is possible. It will require business leaders, government, educators, labor, foundations, entrepreneurs and many others in our community to all come to the table and work together. The result will be more good-paying jobs and greater opportunities for people all across our state,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    Before Mills worked for the Obama administration she was put in charge of Baldacci’s efforts to boost Maine’s economy by working with lawmakers, stakeholders and researchers focusing on growing cluster areas identified as having potential. She successful helped kick start the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) grant program—Cluster Initiative Program (CIP) for collaborative projects that boost Maine’s high-potential technology-intensive clusters. FocusME received a CIP grant with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

    FocusMaine intends to concentrate on aquaculture first, funded in part through that $100,000 MTI grant. FocusMaine, has already raised about $700,000 in grants and contributions from at least 20 Maine companies and nonprofits.

    There are key reasons why FocusMaine has trade sector jobs in their sights—

    Traded sector jobs on average pay an average $50,400 annually, nearly double the average job in the state. In the trade sector, employees tend to stay longer in the company, then workers in lower paying jobs do. Good paying jobs will help keep young educated Maine workers in the state, too often they leave because of lack of employment opportunities.

    The ripple effect from a worker who spends his earnings in his community helps to support 1.6 additional local jobs. 

    “We believe that with a focused effort in these three sectors, over the next 10 years we can create an additional 8,000 to 10,000 traded jobs across the state, along with an additional 12,000 to 20,000 local jobs. That's a total of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs,” wrote Mills in the MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak. 

    In 1980, traded sector jobs in Maine represented 40 percent of the state's total jobs. Today, traded sector jobs account for only 27 percent of Maine's total workforce, a decline that has bought the state well below the national average of 32 percent.

    “This loss of traded sector jobs has had the duel effects of out-migration of young people seeking better jobs and declining overall income as we become more and more dependent on lower-paying local jobs. Had Maine maintained a traded sector workforce equal to the national average of 32 percent, we would have 35,000 more traded sector jobs and, because of the multiplier effects, 55,000 additional local jobs,” MaineBiz Op-ed with Dubyak.  

    Some major well known FocusMaine leaders:

    • Michael Dubyak, former WEX Inc. president and CEO (co-chair)
    • Andrea Cianchette Maker, partner at Pierce Atwood (co-chair)
    • Eleanor Baker, Baker Newman Noyes co-founder and principal
    • William Caron Jr., president of MaineHealth
    • John Fitzsimmons, former Maine Community College System president
    • Karen Mills, former U.S. Small Business Administration administrator
    • Robert Moore, president and CEO of Dead River Co.
    • William Ryan, former chairman and CEO of TD Banknorth
    • David Shaw, founder and former CEO of Idexx Laboratories Inc.


  • Making the case for jobs in ‘traded’ sectors with FocusMaine

    Maine needs more good jobs. That is why the recently formed nonprofit, nonpartisan FocusMaine aims to work with two or three promising industries in a concerted effort to grow 20,000 to 30,000 jobs over the next 10 years. FocusMaine's independently researched effort identified agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals as the three sectors with the best prospects for delivering these jobs for Maine.

    All three of these industries are in "traded" sectors — industries where companies ring up sales for their products and services primarily outside the state and bring those dollars back into Maine. Some key examples of traded sector companies in Maine that we can already point to are IDEXX, L.L.Bean, Sappi, Unum and WEX.

    Why focus on traded sector jobs?

    Traded sector jobs on average pay an average $50,400 annually, nearly 50 percent higher than jobs serving a primarily local market. Traded sector companies have a higher percentage of full-time employees than non-traded sector companies.

    Each traded sector job on average supports 1.6 additional local jobs. These jobs are found both in local suppliers serving traded sector companies and in local companies providing consumer goods and services purchased by traded sector employees in their communities. These multiplier effects flowing from the money brought into Maine by the traded sector businesses constitute the ultimate engine for overall growth of the Maine economy.

    Reversing the decline of traded sector jobs

    In 1980, traded sector jobs in Maine represented 40 percent of the state's total jobs, essentially mirroring the national average. Today, traded sector jobs account for only 27 percent of Maine's total workforce, a decline that has bought us well below the national average of 32 percent. This loss of traded sector jobs has had the duel effects of out-migration of young people seeking better jobs and declining overall income as we become more and more dependent on lower-paying local jobs.

    Had Maine maintained a traded sector workforce equal to the national average of 32 percent, we would have 35,000 more traded sector jobs and, because of the multiplier effects, 55,000 additional local jobs.

    Had we somehow avoided the loss of traded jobs, would we be the oldest state in the nation? Would so many of our best and brightest have left the state? Would our social services and schools be better funded?

    Those of us involved in FocusMaine certainly think these jobs would make a difference in our state's economy and the wellbeing of the Maine people.

    Driving growth in traded jobs

    FocusMaine made it a core principle to identify two or three industries that offer the greatest potential to grow traded jobs in the state. Agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals were chosen because Maine's inherent strengths in these sectors allow to us to compete nationally and even internationally in those growing markets.

    The FocusMaine mission is to be a catalyst to accelerate growth, helping insure that companies large and small in these three industries have the resources to grow, compete and create jobs. We are now building a 10-year implementation plan, engaging key stakeholders and partners — educators, innovators, business leaders and others.

    We believe that with a focused effort in these three sectors, over the next 10 years we can create an additional 8,000 to 10,000 traded jobs across the state, along with an additional 12,000 to 20,000 local jobs. That's a total of 20,000 to 30,000 jobs.

    Ambitious? Yes. Achievable? Absolutely. What it will take is a sustained, collaborative effort, which we know is possible. It will require business leaders, government, educators, labor, foundations, entrepreneurs and many others in our community to all come to the table and work together. The result will be more good-paying jobs and greater opportunities for people all across our state.

    Karen G. Mills is a senior advisor at the Harvard Business School, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and part of the leadership team of FocusMaine.

    Michael E. Dubyak is chairman and former CEO of WEX Inc., a leading provider of corporate payment solutions, and co-chair of FocusMaine.

  • Madison Paper Industries of Maine to close by May- the 5th mill to close with LePage

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Madison Paper Industries mill in Madison will close by the end of May, putting about 214 employees out of work. The paper business will end and hydro-power assets at the mill site will be sold.

    “More than 200 workers were blindsided by this news. I met with workers just last week and heard no hint of this,” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan.

    Some employees will remain beyond May to maintain buildings, operate the hydro generating facilities and support final activities related to the closing.

    “Despite everyone’s best efforts, the difficult decision has been made to cease paper production at Madison,” said Ruud van den Berg, senior vice president of UPM Paper Europe and North America. “Demand for supercalendered papers declined significantly in 2015 and the decline is expected to continue. The Madison mill is not cost-competitive and has lost a significant amount of sales in the recent past.”

    The mill is one of the largest employers and the largest property tax payer in Madison.

    "I'm saddened to see yet another Maine mill closing, leaving hundreds of people out of work.  The Madison mill was a longtime landmark in the community and a critical job creator for the entire region,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “My thoughts are with the families who will be affected, including many in my District—I will do whatever I can to ensure that they receive federal assistance to help find work again." 

    In 2014 a drop in tax value at Madison Paper of $150 million forced the town to seek a $2.5 million line of credit and make several adjustments to its municipal budget.

    In recent years many Maine mills have closed. The Lincoln mill, the Millinocket mill, the Jay mill, the Bucksport mill and now Madison's mill. As many of these industries were their town's largest employer, the people and businesses of these towns are now suffering. Mills have long been a tradition in Maine, but their era is at an end. During the Baldacci administration Governor John Baldacci put in place workers safe guards to help workers transition into new lines of employment.

    He also started Pine Tree Development Zones to help businesses start and/or expand in areas of need. Local saw mills started up in the Second CD. In Solon a business manufacturing wood flooring expanded with PTDZ help. And Madison has become famous for Backyard Farms tomatoes, who also used the benefits PTDZ certification gave them.

    Baldacci also helped jump start alternative energy industries in the state. It is hoped that the wind farm, the state's largest, to be built in Bingham might be somewhere Madison mill workers can find new employment.

    Gov. Paul LePage has not focused his policies to help areas in the Second District where the mills have closed As a result, the Second District has a higher unemployment rate and stagnant growth.

    On March 14th LePage held a meeting with legislative leaders.

    “I was pleased that the governor reached out to the Legislature to discuss how we can all work together to preserve and strengthen Maine’s traditional lumber, pulp and paper industries,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland.

    “But the hundreds of families staring down unemployment because of the Madison mill closure, and all the others who will be affected, don’t need politics. They need Augusta focused keeping Mainers at work and helping Maine’s manufacturing sector thrive. Maine still has six remaining mills and four remaining biomass facilities. We must work for short- and long-term policy solutions that protect Maine jobs.

  • Potential Maine law to increase scrutiny of state contracts of $1 million or more

    An amended “Buy Maine, Buy American” bill that would boost Maine businesses while bringing increased transparency and fiscal responsibility to state government is advancing after winning support from the majority of the State and Local Government Committee.

    Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, proposed the amendment to create a new procurement review board. The 7-5 vote on this version of LD 1525 fell along party lines, with the independent member joining Democrats to support it.

    “Contracts intended to save money can end up being much more expensive because of unforeseen cost overruns,” Golden said. “It’s not enough to have good intentions. Maine needs this safeguard so taxpayers can be assured that state government is using their dollars wisely and that contracted work results in quality work.”

    The board, with five members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, would review all state government contracts worth $1 million or more. To win board approval, a contract would have to be the most economical way of meeting a demonstrated need, not impair the department or agency’s ability to perform its duties and not impede other state cost-savings initiatives.

    The amendment was added to the original version of LD 1525, which requires state government to purchase Maine-made products and contract services from Maine businesses whenever possible and American goods and businesses when Maine options are unavailable.

    “Taxpayers expect the state to spend their money wisely. That includes spending in ways that support Maine businesses and Maine jobs,” said Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, the ranking Senate Democrat on the committee, who worked with Golden on the procurement board amendment. “This bill, as amended, will support and sustain jobs in our state and create a level of transparency in state contracting that’s been sorely missing under this administration.”

    The majority report also includes a provision for state agencies to have the “Buy Maine” requirement waived if there is a compelling public interest to do so. The bill does not apply to municipalities or school administrative units and includes an exemption for products not available.

    “Maine should reward American companies and Maine companies, not undermine them,” said Rep. Roland “Danny” Martin, D-Sinclair, the House chair of the State and Local Government Committee. “This commonsense measure is about leading by example and making sure state government is supporting our own economy.”

     The minority report supported by Republicans replaces the original bill with language that does not require the executive branch to support Maine businesses and Maine jobs.

  • Maine's minimum wage ballot campaign submits signatures

    By Ramona du Houx

    On January 14, 2016, Mainers for Fair Wages submitted 75,000 verified signatures to the Maine Secretary of State to place an increase in the minimum wage on the November ballot, far more than the 61,123 required. Supporters marked the event with a rally in the State House Hall of Flags and remarks from more than a dozen Mainers from across the state, many of them making low wages themselves, who helped to collect the signatures.
    “I’m a single mother and I know what it’s like to work low wage jobs and not be able to make ends meet. On $8 an hour it was impossible to afford basic necessities for my family like childcare, transportation and keeping a roof over our heads. While I was working full time I still needed to rely on food assistance to be able to feed my family,” said Melissa Stevens of Lewiston. “I joined the minimum wage campaign last fall to collect signatures to support this initiative and I am thrilled to be heretoday with so many community leaders from all walks of life as we submit far more than enough signatures to place this referendum on the ballot.”
    Mainers for Fair Wages, a coalition including the Maine People's Alliance, Maine Small Business Coalition, and Maine AFL-CIO, launched the petition process for a citizen initiative to raise Maine's minimum wage in June. If passed, the initiative would increase the minimum wage to $9 per hour in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that the wage would increase at the same rate as the cost of living. The initiative would also incrementally raise the sub-minimum tipped wage until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024.
    Raising the state minimum wage would directly affect more than 130,000 low-wage workers in Maine, most of them women and many of them supporting families, according to calculations by the Economic Policy Institute.
    “I am working as a tipped worker at a restaurant and a boost in my base wage would mean that I would not have to rely solely on tips in order to support myself,” said Esther Pew of Portland. “It’s hard to stick to a budget and be financially responsible when your wages can fluctuate drastically from one shift to the next. Getting a steady paycheck from my employer, and not just tips from my customers, would be a boost for me and thousands of tipped workers, mostly women, working in restaurants all over Maine.”
    According to Mainers for Fair Wages, the submission of signatures marks the end of the first phase of their people-powered campaign and the beginning of the next.

    “From the time I was 15, I’ve had to work a number of minimum wage jobs to help my family make ends meet. As the breadwinner, I was responsible, as a child, for making sure the heat stayed on through the winter, and unfortunately, I often failed in this endeavor,” said Tyler Williams, an employee of a big box store in Bangor. “Recently, I was forced to drop out of school because minimum wage, does not pay enough to get necessities, much less to pay tuition, too. This is the true tragedy of having such a low minimum wage. No one should have to choose between an education and a pittance. Hard work is supposed to give you the opportunity to pull yourself out of poverty, but $7.50 doesn’t help you out of poverty. It keeps you in it.”

    The ballot question committee has already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from supporters giving contributions average just over $30 each and the campaign will seek to increase and strengthen that broad base of support in the months between now and November.

    “When I was 26, I was diagnosed with aggressive stage four breast cancer.  I had to leave the workforce for in order to deal with it and regain my health and strength.  Since then, I have had a hard time finding dependable and livable wage work that allows me to make ends meet while still paying off huge amounts of medical debt.  I currently work two part time jobs at very close to minimum wage, plus I help my parents with their business. With these three jobs, I still don’t make enough to get by,” said Brandy Staples of Phippsburg. “I heard similar stories all the time while I was collecting signatures to get this initiative on the ballot.  That’s what motivated me to collected more than 600 signatures last summer and fall. Raising Maine’s minimum wage to $12/hour will help me get on my feet and will help so many others like me.”

    Many businesses belive in raising the wage-

    “When working Mainers make a decent living, they spend that extra money in our communities. It’s good for the whole economy, including my business,” said Adam Lee, Chairman of Lee Auto Malls. “In the last year and a half Lee Auto Malls has raised our starting wage from $9 to $10 and six months ago we raised it to $11 per hour. It’s the right thing and the smart thing to do.”

    Every Democrat lawmaker in the State House and State Senate supports the measure- 

    "I was proud to join dozens of ‪#‎FairWageME‬ activists as they announced their submission of more than 80K signatures in support of $12/hr," said State Senator Justin Alfond.

    There have been many measures lawmakers have put forward-everyone has been veoted by Gov. LePage.

    “While big corporations and the top 1 percent continue to rake in money faster than they can count it, regular working folks struggle to get by,” said Sen. John Patrick. “No Mainer should work hard and plays by the rules only to earn poverty wages. There’s no question that the time has come to raise the minimum wage.”

    The office of the Secretary of State now has 30 days to review the petitions before referring the initiative to the legislature, which can choose to enact it without change or allow it to be placed on the November ballot.

  • Rapidly growing Maine business, INDEXX, sets example for training, caring for workforce

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine lawmakers and local officials on October 29,2015 heard first-hand from management and workers at IDEXX Laboratories, in Westbrook, about the growing demand for highly trained workers.

    The visit to IDEXX, the state’s largest publicly traded company and a manufacturer of veterinary diagnostic tools and water testing devices, was the eighth stop on a statewide jobs tour launched in January by House Speaker Mark Eves. Products to help detect and treat kidney desease in pets are examples of what IDEXX produces. INDEXX was certified as a Pine Tree Development Zone company under the Baldacci administration enabling it to take advantage of tax incentives. All PTDZ companies have to hire workers, and train them.

    The purpose of the jobs tour is to spotlight the need to grow good jobs and strong wages in Maine at a time when the state lags the nation in economic growth.

    “IDEXX is a bright spot in Maine’s economy,” said Speaker Eves, D-North Berwick.  “It is an engine of economic growth and a strong example of how to grow good jobs and strong wages right here in Maine. We were incredibly impressed with the effort the company makes to train, develop, and care for its workers. We hope we can help them find ways to continue to flourish.”

    Lawmakers including State Rep. Drew Gattine, State Senators Anne Haskell and Cathy Breen, as well as Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton and William Baker, the city's director of business and community relations, toured the LEED-certified Synergy Center. The Synergy Center is the company’s open work space concept building with a state of the art gym, local food based cafeteria, and clinic.  

    “IDEXX is one of our region’s largest employers, and I was impressed to see its operation in person and meet some of the great people who work there,” said Sen. Breen, who represents a part of Westbrook and is the lead Senate Democrat on the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee. “The company’s commitment to environmental stewardship and employee health was clear during the tour of its Synergy Center, and its dedication to employee wellbeing is also a model to be followed.”

    IDEXX employs roughly 2,400 people at the Maine headquarters in Westbrook and 6,000 worldwide.  IDEXX  added 1,000 new jobs last year and expects to grow at its workforce 4 percent per year.

    “IDEXX is an excellent company to work for and a great corporate citizen of our city," said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook. "Our visit focused on how we can work together to get more Maine students and workers into their pipeline for hiring.”

    Sen. Anne Haskell, who also represents part of Westbrook, was impressed by the company’s commitment to its workers.

    “The precision and technical work that takes place at IDEXX every day requires the kind of highly skilled workforce that must be prioritized to meet the demands of the 21stCentury economy,” said Haskell. “It was great to see IDEXX engaged in the kind of leadership development and training that can help their employees succeed. These are the kind of good business practices policymakers should support.”

    Lawmakers have met with employers, workers, and community leaders across the state in York, Aroostook, Hancock, Kennebec, Somerset, Waldo and Oxford counties. The meetings prompted lawmakers to create the Put ME to Work program this session to partner with employers to train workers across the state for good paying-jobs in growing industries, such as logging, agriculture, health care and manufacturing.  

  • Maine law to protect jobs of sexual assault victims now in effect

    Maine State Capitol in the fall, photo by Ramona du Houx

     A law strengthening workplace protections for victims of sexual assault and other violence by expanding their rights to take a leave of absence from their jobs is now in effect.

    The law, PL 343, builds upon protections first adopted in 1999. It requires employers to restore employees who are victims of violence to the position they had before taking a leave or to an equivalent position with similar wages and benefits. It also increases fines for employers who violate any of the protections.

    The measure applies to both employees and immediate family members who are victims of violence.

    “Last year, I became aware of situations where employers did not follow the law and fired employees who requested leave after a violent incident,” said Rep. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, sponsor of the original legislation. “Before this law passed, the victim had no legal recourse. There is still a ways to go, but this is a good step forward.”

    Under previous law, when employers illegally fired victims of violence or sexual assault, their only punishment was a $200 fine from the Maine Department of Labor that did not go to the victim. Now the fine is $1000 to the Department, and employees can choose to either receive either $3,000 or be rehired with back pay. 

    “After going through such a traumatic experience, a person’s first thought shouldn’t be ‘Am I going to lose my job?’” said Daughtry. “I’m glad the tide is beginning to turn on this issue.” 

    Daughtry’s legislation was confirmed as law after the Maine Supreme Court ruled that the governor failed to issue a veto within the 10-day window allotted him by the Maine Constitution. The measure became law without the signature of the governor.

    “The original law protecting victims of violence was intended to give them time to recover and seek treatment, prepare for and attend court proceedings or develop a plan for their continued safety,” said Daughtry. “This new law begins to back up those intentions with real consequences for employers who violate the law. Too many victims, especially women, are not taking all the time they need to heal because they fear losing ground at work.”

  • Bruce Poliquin’s political grandstanding has cost Maine jobs to overseas competitors

    Poliquin the only member of Maine’s Delegation to Oppose Reauthorization of Ex-Im Bank

    By Ramona du Houx

    General Electric’s (GE) decision to send 500 U.S. jobs overseas, including 80 jobs in Maine, because of the Republican Congress’ failure to reauthorize the Ex-Im bank hurts Maine's and the entire US economy. 

    “In a competitive world, we are left with no choice but to invest in non-U.S. manufacturing and move production to countries that support high-tech exporters,” said Tim Rice, GE’s vice chairman, in a statement.

    Republican Bruce Poliquin, the only member of Maine’s delegation to actively oppose reauthorization of the Ex-Im bank, joined House Republicans in July to block consideration of a bill to allow the Ex-Im Bank to operate.

    Today’s bad news is a direct result of House Republicans putting politics before American workers,” said MDP Chairman Phil Bartlett. “Bruce Poliquin’s political grandstanding has chased good business overseas and compromised the employment of 80 workers in Maine. His endless attacks on the Ex-Im bank and the Maine jobs it supports has to stop for the good of Maine workers and our economy.”

    Congressman Poliquin has promoted his vehement opposition to the Ex-Im bank, posting videos and releases of his attacks against the Ex-Im bank, going as far to say the bank was ‘picking winners and losers.’ Poliquin’s opposition is in contrast to the Maine delegation, his constituents and the Maine workers who support the bank and the $266 million in export sales from Maine, including $51 million to five businesses in the second District.

    "How could he possibly say that, 'he didn’t think there were people in Maine who support the Ex-Im Bank?' I know he spent most of his adult life in New York, but at least attempt to know something about the district. How can you claim to be a representative of the 2nd district and not know anything about how one of your biggest employers operates? It can’t just be ignorance. Was being against the EX-IM Bank a condition of the pledge he made to National Republicans in order to get the obscene amount of cash he’s already received? The people of this district deserve answers!” said Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci, who is running against Emily Cain in a Democratic primary. The winner will go up against Poliquin in next year's election.

    Today, we learned that his actions have put 80 good-paying jobs at General Electric at risk, as well as hundreds of millions in export sales from Maine, including $52 million to five businesses in the second district,” said Emily Cain, who has consistently supported the Ex-Im Bank. “Congressman Poliquin’s actions are shameful because they have devastating consequences for the people he is supposed to fight for. This rejection of the Ex-Im Bank is just another example of Bruce Poliquin being out of step with Maine values and yet again putting his political ideology ahead of the lives and jobs of hardworking Mainers.”

    Ex-Im Bank provides millions of exporting value For Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. Between 2007 and 2015 the total export value for ME's 2nd CD region was $51,236,816. In Maine, the Ex-Im Bank has supported at least $51 million in total exports between 2007 and 2015. [Export-Import Bank of the United States, accessed 5/28/15]

    In Maine small businesses accounted for 100 percent oall EX-IM supported exports worth $5.3 million during FY 2014. 

    Earlier this summer, the plant manager of the General Electric Power and Water Plant in Bangor called on Bruce Poliquin to quit playing politics with Maine jobs, businesses’ and asked the Congressman to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank, because it is is “good for Maine, good for our economy and good for our country.”

    “U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin recently said he didn’t think there were people in Maine who support the Ex-Im Bank; if that were the case, he must not be listening very closely because we have 425 employees here at the Bangor facility alone, in addition to the additional 1,700 workers who rely on the Ex-Im Bank for their work in the state of Maine,” said the GE manager.

    During the Baldacci administration exports skyroketed because of his policies and businesses grew. Many of them used the Ex-Im bank to help them get their products overseas like  Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound, Inc whose exports comprised 55 percent of their total sales in 2013.

    This four-generation family business has been growing since it started in 1956 by a husband and wife team. In 1981 they started mail-order shipments of live lobster and it grew to include steamer clams, mussels, lobster meat and crabmeat, Maine scallops and shrimp. This part of the business has grown into a year-round operation including online sales. The company expanded in 2001 with the acquisition of a tidal holding pound and tank room facility. As a wholesaler and retailer, exports now comprise 55 percent of total sales in 2013.” [EX-IM Bank of the United States, accessed 5/28/15]

  • Speaker Eves highlights Belfast- a city full of wonder and job growth

    Front Yard Shipyard set up business in 2010, has expanded and now occupies an area where old chicken factories used to be in Belfast. Gov. Baldacci's Pine Tree Zones helped to attract the company to the city.

    Photo by Ramona du Houx

     Green jobs and health care innovation were the focus of a statewide jobs tour led by House Speaker Mark Eves in the Belfast area on August 20, 2015. 

    The tour came as news broke that Verso Paper Mill would layoff 300 workers. 

    “The layoffs at Verso are reminder of how important it is for our leaders to focus on growing good jobs and strong wages in our state. Our state lags the nation in job growth and we must do better,” said Eves, D-North Berwick. “Belfast is leading the way when it comes to writing Maine’s comeback story. We’ve seen area leaders, business, workers, and the entire community come together to turnaround the city from the former home of a collapsing poultry processing industry to a vibrant city, growing jobs in alternative energy, healthcare and local manufacturing.”

    The burgeoning bayside city has been profiled for its “green renaissance,” focusing on local job growth in sustainable industries, from alternative energy to local food and health care innovation. In the 1950's Belfast was known as a chicken processing center where the bay's water was once full of chicken parts. Since 2002 the Baldacci administration helped grow the creative economy of the area with bonds for communities and Pine Tree Zone tax breaks. Local citizens took the opportunities to bring back their city.

    ReVision Energy has doubled its workforce in Liberty this year and now employs 101 people.

    “We are creating good-paying local jobs by helping Mainers make the transition to clean, renewable energy," said ReVision co-founder Phil Coupe. "Some of our best workers come straight to us from Kennebec Valley Community College, bringing the traditional strong Maine work ethic and the highly valuable trades skills that ensure our customers get the highest quality solar installations.”

    “ReVision is providing an antidote to our rising energy costs and our stalled job growth,” said Rep.Christine Burstein. “The work they are doing with community solar farms, which offers solar energy to groups of users, offers so much promise for our future.”

    At AthenaHealth in Belfast, lawmakers learned how the company is using innovative technology to service the healthcare providers and manage data. The company employs 800 workers and is adding 200 new jobs. The Department of Economic and Community Development during the Baldacci administration brought AtheaHealth to Belfast.

    The company has hired workers who have been laid off from closing mills around the state.

    Speaker Eves launched the jobs tour in January to spotlight the need for more jobs and better wages in the state. Lawmakers have met with employers, workers, and community leaders across the state in York, Aroostook, Kennebec, and Somerset counties.   The meetings prompted lawmakers to create the Put ME to Work program this session to partner with employers to train workers across the state for good paying-jobs in growing industries, such as logging, agriculture, health care and manufacturing.

  • Obama to make rule change to give overtime pay to 5million workers

     On June 30th President Barack Obama proposed a plan to extend overtime pay to 5 million American workers who earn to much to qualify, eventhough they have done the work.

    The president is updating overtime rules so that salaried workers who earn less than roughly $50,400 per year would be guaranteed time-and-a-half pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week. Under the current rules implemented by former President George W. Bush, salaried workers must earn less than $23,660 per year in order to be automatically eligible for overtime pay.

    It will be an Executive Order, so Congress doesn't need to weigh in. The proposal must undergo a public-comment period before it can be finalized and go into effect. The changes are expected to go into effect in 2016.

    According to the Economic Policy Institute, only 11 percent of salaried workers in the U.S. are covered by overtime law under the current rules. That share would be closer to half of salaried workers under the new proposal, by EPI's estimates.


    A Hard Day's Work Deserves a Fair Day's Pay


    It's been a good few days for America.

    On Thursday, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the Affordable Care Act. It is here to stay.

    And, Democrats and Republicans in Congress paved the way for the United States to rewrite the rules of global trade to benefit American workers and American businesses.

    On Friday, the Court recognized the Constitutional guarantee of marriage equality. With that ruling, our union became a little more perfect -- a place where more people are treated equally, no matter who they are or who they love.

    These steps build upon America's steady progress in recent years. Out of the depths of recession, we've emerged ready to write our own future. Our businesses have created 12.6 million new jobs over the past 63 months -- the longest streak on record. More than 16 million Americans have gained health insurance. More kids are graduating from high school and college than ever before.

    But more work lies ahead, if we are to succeed in making sure this recovery reaches all hardworking Americans and their families.

    We've got to keep expanding access to affordable health care. Right now, 22 states haven't expanded Medicaid -- even though, under the ACA, they can. We'll keep encouraging those governors to do the right thing for their constituents. And we're making sure people know all the ways that they can benefit from the ACA. Wednesday, I'll go to Tennessee to meet Americans whose lives have been changed by this law, and to talk about how, instead of refighting settled battles of the past, we can move forward together.

    We've got to keep making sure hard work is rewarded. Right now, too many Americans are working long days for less pay than they deserve. That's partly because we've failed to update overtime regulations for years -- and an exemption meant for highly paid, white collar employees now leaves out workers making as little as $23,660 a year -- no matter how many hours they work.

    This week, I'll head to Wisconsin to discuss my plan to extend overtime protections to nearly 5 million workers in 2016, covering all salaried workers making up to about $50,400 next year. That's good for workers who want fair pay, and it's good for business owners who are already paying their employees what they deserve -- since those who are doing right by their employees are undercut by competitors who aren't.

    That's how America should do business. In this country, a hard day's work deserves a fair day's pay. That's at the heart of what it means to be middle class in America.

    As president, my top priority is to strengthen the middle class, expand opportunity and grow the economy. That's why I believe in middle-class economics -- the idea that our country does best when everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. It's driven me from day one. It's fueled our American comeback. And it's at the heart of the fundamental choice our country faces today.

    Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do exceptionally well? Or will we push for an economy where every American who works hard can contribute to and benefit from our success?

    Will we invest in programs that would help educate our children, maintain our roads and bridges, and train our workers for the high-paying jobs of the future? Or will we cut these programs, and decide to give more to the wealthiest Americans instead?

    To me, the answer is clear. Let's invest in America's future. Let's commit to an economy that rewards hard work, generates rising incomes, and allows everyone to share in the prosperity of a growing America. Let's reverse harmful cuts to vital programs, and instead make the critical investments we need to grow our economy and strengthen the middle class.

    That's what I'll be talking about this week -- this choice, and these priorities.

    America is at its best when we look out for one another. We soar when we strive to do better for one another. That's what I'm focused on and that's what I'll fight for every day for the next 18 months.

    Let's get to work.

  • Maine House unanimously votes for measure to boost pay for direct care workers

     By Ramona du Houx

    Maine House on June 13, 2015 gave final approval to a bipartisan measure to increase pay for in-home care workers by unanimous consent. The vote proved that Maine lawmakers can still work together for the health and well being of the state's citizens.

    “Lawmakers came together to do right by our seniors and those who care for them,” said bill sponsor House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. “A stronger direct care workforce will also make it possible for seniors to stay in their homes and remain independent. ”

    Eves worked on the proposal with House Minority Leader Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, who introduced a similar bill.  The amended bill, LD 1350, combines both proposals from Eves and Espling. It would increase reimbursement rates to providers of in-home direct-care services by 66 percent to nearly $25 per hour.  

    The proposal to raise pay for direct care workers is one of the key components of Speaker Eves’ Keep ME Home initiative to help older adults in Maine live independently longer.

    During a public hearing on the proposal, in-home care workers and the seniors they care for urged support for the pay boost.

    “I have a wonderful homecare worker that helps me a few times a week.  This is what keeps me in my beloved home and gives me my independence,” said Ray Polley, a senior from Wales who receives in-home care every week in order to stay in his home.  “If I had to move out there would be a part of me that wouldn’t be there anymore.”

    Adelaide Baramburiye Manirakiza, a homecare worker from Westbrook, said she loved caring for her clients, but the pay is not enough to support her family.

    “I have been working as a home care worker for the last seven years.  I work 48 hours a week, in a job that is hard and stressful, but I still don’t make enough to pay all my bills,” said Manirakiza.

    The measure faces further votes in the Senate.

  • LePage attempts to keep citizens earning poverty wages

    By Ramona du Houx

    Evidence shows that aising the minimum wage would keep more people off state assistance.

    So, why would anyone beat up on working people by stopping measures to increase the minimum wage - a clear way that would help to improve their lives and livelihoods?

    But that is what Gov. Paul LePage is attempting to do by trying to stop municipal officials in Portland and Bangor from raising the minimum wage for employers within their city limits. 

    LePage’s proposed legislation  — LD 1361, “An Act to Promote Minimum Wage Consistency” — faces action this week at the state house.

    A full-time Maine worker earning minimum wage only makes $15,600 per year. It’s impossible to live on such a wage, forcing many to seek assistance from state government.

    At $7.50 per hour Maine is one of 29 states with minimum wages higher than the federal level of $7.25.  That’s just a quarter difference. Other states have bumped up the minimum wage to $10.10.

    Washington State has a statewide minimum wage of $9.47. But the city of Seattle increased the minimum wage to $15 per hour for workers at companies with more than 500 employees, and will do so for all workers by 2021.

    San Francisco has also voted to enact a $15 minimum wage, and several other California cities have their own minimum wage ordinances in excess of the state level, as have

    Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Louisville, Kentucky both have higher minimum wages than their state government standard.

    So why shouldn’t Bangor and Portland or any other city be able to do the same?

    The Portland City Council’s finance committee agreed to put Mayor Michael Brennan minimum wage increase proposal to a vote. Brennan wanted it to be $9.50 the committee agreed to $8.75 per hour, and it is expected to pass.

    “The economy in different parts of the state is different. We, as a city, should be able to respond to the specific economic conditions in our community, to help the economy grow,” said Brennan.

    In Bangor, City Councilor Joseph Baldacci has proposed a plan to gradually boost the city’s minimum wage each year until it reaches $9.75 in 2018, after which it would be pegged to inflation. Baldacci held a Town Hall to discuss the issue with citizens.

    LePage vetoed a proposed minimum wage increase last year. Currently there are 8 different bills to increase the minimum wage for the legislature to decide upon. All the bills are expected to be vetoed by LePage. So why shouldn’t local cities take the initiative up?

    “All we want to do is to promote policies to raise wages for working people. Its something that we should all be working on regardless of party. Instead this Governor has vetoed a minimum wage increase already at the state level, and now wants to veto all efforts at the local level. All of us at the grassroots need to say no to that.” said Baldacci.

    In Portland the Green Party wants to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

    And the Maine People’s Alliance has started collecting signatures for a people’s referendum on the issue.

    If LePage wants to keep people off the welfare roles, he should logically consider increasing the minimum wage. A job that pays well is best for workers moral, it brings more funds into their communities to be spent on local goods and helps famines improve their quality of life. Isn’t that what state government should do?

  • Proposed law to help contractors and subcontractors in Maine draws public support

    By Ramona du Houx

    Local business owners spoke in support of legislation proposed by Rep. Denise Tepler which would ensure developers of large-scale projects pay contractors and subcontractors more of what they are owed in a timely fashion.

    “Improving cash flow for contractors and subcontractors will make it easier for them to earn a living, hire more employees and transition between jobs,” said Tepler at a public hearing before the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee Thurday. “We have the opportunity to encourage business and job growth by putting more capital to work.”

    Under current law, private developers can withhold any portion of a project’s cost – customarily around 10 percent – until the entire project is determined to be fully complete. Withholding that money can hurt both contractors and smaller subcontractors who often complete their portion of a project earlier in the building phase but end up waiting years for the final payment, especially if there are major delays in the overall project.   

    Tepler’s bill limits the amount a private developer can withhold to 5 percent of a project’s total cost – the same limit now used by the state for public development projects.

    “A move to 5 percent retainage would still ensure that general and subcontractors complete their work and would allow them to keep more of the money that they’ve earned,” said Tepler. “Right now many contractors don’t see that final 10 percent for several months after job is done. The larger the job, the harder that can be on their business.”  

    Gordon Kinney, owner of All Season Brick and Stone in Topsham, told committee members Tepler’s bill would help subcontractors like him keep their businesses in better financial shape. 

    “When credit lines are maxed, and suppliers want their money within 30 days, only holding 5 percent retainage would help most subcontractors with their cash flow,” said Kinney. “Please consider this change to help the many sub-contractors that could use this money that they have earned and not have to go into their line of credit to fund a job.”

    Nick Whatley, President of Morningstar Marble & Granite in Topsham, also expressed concern about the current trend toward 10 percent retainage.

    “I checked an income statement for the last ten years and found that we have had a 5.7 percent profit margin,” said Whatley. “I think in my industry this is pretty typical. I do not feel that it is fair for a general contractor to hold what essentially is twice our margin for an indeterminate and sometimes extended time period.” 

    The committee will hold a work session on Tepler’s bill in the coming days and make a recommendation to the full Legislature.


    Tepler, a member of the Legislature’s Taxation Committee, is serving her first term in the Maine House and represents Topsham.

  • Maine people from all walks of life demand raising minimum wage at hearings for 8 bills

     State lawmakers on March 23rd held a public hearings on eight separate proposals related to raising the minimum wage.

     "Ive 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 to 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 hearings were packed with concerned citizens making the case to increase the minimum wage, which stands at $7.50 an hour and has remained at that level since 2009.

    A living wage in Maine for a single adult, on average, is $15.82. Fifty-five percent of job openings in Maine pay less than that.

    For every job that pays $15.82, there are twelve job-seekers on average.

    The most basic premise of the American economic social contract is that you can work forty hours a week and make ends meet. Maine's minimum wage of $7.50 an hour for non-tipped workers doesn’t get an individual even halfway there. Many minimum wage earners have families to support.

    “People who work full time should not live in poverty.  People who work hard should be able to earn enough to make ends meet.  It's long overdue that Maine workers get a raise. 

    A meaningful increase in the minimum wage would improve the wages of hundreds of thousands of Mainers. It would spur economic activity and pump millions of dollars into the Maine economy.  Its good economics, its the right thing to do, and it's long overdue.

    We need to raise wages across the board.  All throughout Maine, working families are living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to make ends meet. Workers wages are simply not keeping pace with rising costs.  Raising the minimum wage is a first step in a larger effort to build an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few,” stated Maine AFL-CIO Executive Director, Matt Schlobohm on the proposed bills.

    The bill sponsered by State Senator Dave Miramant, of Camden, would raise the minimum wage to $9.75 per hour beginning on October 1, 2015.

    Senator Miramant said: 

    "When I looked back at the value of the minimum wage, it hit an all-time high just as I was starting to work in 1969. The minimum wage was $1.60 per hour but that gave me the equivalent of a $10.19 wage in 2015 dollars. This is why we were able to start a large middle class through this period. We have been falling behind ever since!”

    Because we have failed to tie the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), or some reliable method of indexing it to inflation, workers are being left behind in this state and in many others. The jobs that were supposed to be entry level and only short term have become an ongoing reality for far too many workers in our hobbled economy."

    With eight different bills to increase wages, it is clear to many lawmakers some measure must be taken. However, Governor LePage has vetoed every proposal in past legislatures. The last time Maine's wage increased was with Governor John Baldacci.

    “We are seeing lawmakers from every corner of the state bring forward proposals to raise the minimum wage. It’s long past due time to raise the wage,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. “No Mainer who works full time should live in poverty. Raising the minimum wage is an important first step toward addressing poverty, but we must also be focused on growing good jobs with livable wages. Maine’s comeback story depends on it.”

    Governor John Baldacci was the last Maine governor to raise the minimum wage back in 2009. He, and a host of other speakers, will be part of a town hall meeting in Bangor, Maine on April 9th at 5:30. The event has been put together by Bangor City Councilman Joe Baldacci. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Ben Chin,  political director of the Maine People’s Alliance and candidate for Lewiston mayor testified at the hearings.

    "Our 32,000 members stretch from Kittery to Fort Kent. I’m here today to testify primarily in support of LD 843, “An Act to Raise the Minimum Wage and Index it to the National Average Wage,” sponsored by Rep Melaragno. We believe that LDs 36, 52, 72, 77, 92, 487, and 739 offer encouraging steps in the right direction. But LD 843 offers the most significant movement towards a living wage for all Maine workers. The reality is that need an even larger increase than what LD 843 offers," said Chin. 

    “Maine workers find themselves working at least full time but still living in or near poverty, while having to care for their families at the same time,” said Melaragno, D-Auburn, the author of LD 843. “They have seen the prices of everything go up except the price of their undervalued labor, and they are tired of being thrown a small token raise every five or six years. They want meaningful, lasting change.”

     Melaragno’s bill would increase the minimum wage in Mage to $12, which would be phased in over five years with an increase of less than a dollar each year. The bill would index the minimum wage to the average wage. It also incrementally increase wages of tipped workers until it reaches the minimum bill.

    Mainers working full-time minimum-wage jobs earn just $15,600 a year, $4,190 below the federal poverty level.

    Bangor City Councilman Joe Baldacci has put a measure to his City Council to raise the wage to $9.50 an hour, and he has called a Town Hall in Bangor to discuss the issue.

    "I am calling attention to the minimum wage because it is about basic economic fairness. Having a real and substantial conversation about raising the minimum wage is a part of a necessary discussion we need to have about raising people's incomes in general," said Bangor City Councilman Joe Baldacci.

    Minimum Wage Bills


    LD 36 An Act To Increase the Minimum Wage [Rep. Evangelos of Friendship]

    LD 52 An Act To Adjust Maine's Minimum Wage [Rep. Danny Martin of Sinclair]

    LD 72 An Act To Increase the Minimum Wage [Rep. Scott Hamann of South Portland]

    LD 77 An Act To Raise the Minimum Wage [Senator David Miramant of Camden]

    LD 92 An Act To Increase the Minimum Wage to $8.00 per Hour [Rep. Dillon Bates of Westbrook]

    LD 487 An Act To Provide for an Increase in the Minimum Wage [Rep. Ben Chipman of Portland]

    LD 843 An Act To Raise the Minimum Wage and Index It to the National Average Wage[Representative Gina Melaragno of Auburn]

    LD 739 Resolve, To Establish a Working Group To Evaluate the Benefits and Detriments of Increasing the Minimum Wage [Senator Thomas Saviello of Wilton]

  • FairPoint, IBEW, and CWA reach tentative agreements after over 125 strike days

    Photo: Rep. Mark Bryant visited with Fairpoint workers on strike to show his solidarity.

    FairPoint Communications, Inc. (Nasdaq: FRP); System Council T-9 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (AFL-CIO) Locals 2320, 2326, 2327; and the Communications Workers of America (AFL-CIO) Local 1400 have announced that they have reached tentative agreements on the terms for new collective bargaining agreements.

    "It's a good day to have this strike resolved. Nearly 2,000 good paying jobs in northern New England including 70 in Bangor area will be protected. I congratulate the Fairpoint workers and their families who have sacrificed much," said Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci, who spent time with the workers in Bangor.  Many striking workers attended, for free, a spaghetti dinner co-hosted by Baldacci, with his brother fromer Governor John Baldacci.

    The tentative agreements only happened after over 125 days of FairPoint workers in Maine, and other states, being on strike. Dispite the cold weather and tremendous storms their efforts seemed to have paid off.

    "The men and women who work at Fairpoint are some of the best trained, most experienced and dedicated telecommunication workers around," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. "It's important to keep those jobs in Maine and get these people back to work. It's been clear that our telephone network has suffered without them on the job."

    Pingree, who visited the picket line several times and wrote to the company CEO urging and end to the strike. praised the workers for their endurance.

    "They spent months on the picket line, sometimes in very cold weather, fighting to keep these good jobs in Maine. Their perseverance in very difficult conditions was impressive," said Pingree. "And the support of the communityhas also been incredible, from people who dropped off food on a daily basis to the donations to the strike fund that helped workers keep their homes heated and their families fed."

    Today was day 126 of the strike. 

    The Company and the Unions agree that the terms of their new collective bargaining agreements will address, in meaningful and constructive ways, the objectives of the parties and that the new labor agreements will provide employees with wages and benefits that are among the best in northern New England. At the same time, the agreements permit the Company to achieve a much more competitive position in the marketplace.

    Union members will vote on ratification of the tentative agreements as soon as possible. Effective with the signing of the tentative agreements, the parties agreed that striking employees will return to work on Wednesday, February 25, 2015.

  • Ramona du Houx: No more tax shifts

    Ramona du Houx
    Columns & Analysis | 
    Sunday, February 1, 2015

    Cutting taxes, most everyone would agree, could be a great idea. But how do you go about it without placing more of burden on the middle class?

    Not with Gov. Paul LePage’s plan.

    While LePage is trying to tackle the issue, his plan is focused on benefiting the top 2 percent. With his proposal those earning $50,000 to $175,000 will be taxed at the highest tax rate. And those earning about $10,000 to $50,000 would pay the same tax rate as the top 2 percent.

    So a schoolteacher earning $26,000 will pay the same rate as a successful investment banker who would get a 2.2 percentage-point cut to his tax rate. With the elimination of the estate tax, the top 2 percent will see a boon.

    LePage already cut the tax rate for the wealthiest. This is the second round and, again, the middle class will carry the burden. But then he plans to stop sending funding to municipalities for essential services. This cost-shifting will end up, as it has been, in property tax increases.

    When LePage was Waterville’s mayor, he ranted against any mention of cutting revenue sharing. Oh, the costs that shifting circumstances have on some politicians.

    What will hurt people daily is the sales tax increase to 6.5 percent. While I love going to the movies, I do not relish paying an expanded sales tax for my ticket. People will have to pay sales tax to have their hair done, go to a concert or visit a museum. Just to get the snow removed, hire an accountant or lawyer, or get a tow to the mechanic will cost people that sales tax increase.

    That tax plan is backward.

    Back in 2009, then-Gov. John Baldacci and Democratic lawmakers came up with a similar plan. The big difference was that the plan did not stop revenue sharing, increase property taxes or cut back on essential services. Yet it cut taxes for all tax-paying citizens, eliminating them for the less fortunate.

    But real tax relief for all never happened, as the right wing ad factory led the public to believe they would be paying a lot more because of sales taxes.

    A recent analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy evaluated the local tax burden in every state. According to the study, in 2015, the poorest fifth of Americans will pay on average 10.9 percent of their income in state and local taxes; the middle fifth will pay 9.4 percent; and the top 1 percent will average 5.4 percent.

    From the report: “States and localities have regressive systems because they tend to rely more on sales and excise taxes, which are the same rate for rich and poor alike. Even property taxes, which account for much of local tax revenue, hit working- and middle-class families harder than the wealthy because their homes often represent their largest asset.”

    This ideological battle is being waged across the nation and involves the right wing promoting the economics of austerity over investing in people and programs in innovation that can grow the economy.

    Baldacci had it right. He consolidated administrations from school districts to branches of state government. He got the prison system to work together, and stopped agencies from duplicating work, all while getting bond initiatives passed that would go on to help research and development — the type of research that led to the University of Maine’s breakthroughs in bio-fuels and composite technologies.

    Maine’s innovative technologies began to really take off after 2007 with voter-approved bonds. The $50 million investment became known as the Maine Technology Asset Fund and nourished growing sectors of high-wage jobs.

    The funds were rewarded on a competitive basis. The recipients of the fund’s grants secured more than $80 million in matching funds. A 2011 evaluation of Maine’s research and development investments found that those 29 projects, that were granted funding by mid-2011, had directly created 289.5 jobs and preserved 303 in traditionally higher-paying sectors. Nineteen of those projects led to the creation of a new product or service.

    It is interesting to note that the MTAF hasn’t received any new funding since 2010.

    Maine's community colleges also received bond funding for their expansions, which has enabled thousands to get good-paying jobs

    Cutting taxes for the top 2 percent has not yielded jobs for Maine, or the nation. Meanwhile, America has experienced job growth for more than four years with Obama’s policies.

    Maine has been held back because of the trickle-down economic mantra LePage follows.

    Ramona du Houx is a published author and has written about Maine politics for 10 years. She is co-owner of Polar Bear & Company publishing and owns the news magazine Maine Insights. She lives in Solon.

  • "Good Jobs, Strong Wages" focus of Democratic Lawmakers

    By Ramona du Houx

      “Good jobs, strong wages.” Was the resounding call of Democrats at the Statehouse, during a press conference they called to announce their focus for the 
    upcoming legislative session. 

    “Democrats stand united behind an economic agenda that we believe will grow more jobs and stronger wages in our state -- an agenda that will put Maine jobs and Maine workers first,” said House Speaker Mark Eves, at a press conference in the Hall of Flags in Augusta. “Democrats, Republicans, and the Governor must work together to invest in our people, our businesses and our state." 

    Democratic leaders went on to say a number of their bills are focused on job training, workforce development, college affordability and keeping and creating good jobs so young Mainers can stay or return home to pursue their careers.  

    They also announced a jobs tour that will hit every region of the state, from Aroostook to Washington to York, and provide a forum for lawmakers to meet with workers, businesses and community leaders to look for public-private partnerships to grow good jobs.

      According to the Maine Center for Economic Policy, New England has recovered 132 percent of jobs lost since the recession, the United States has recovered 123 percent since the recession, but Maine has only recovered 56 percent of the jobs lost. Maine faces a jobs gap.

    If the state was keeping pace with the national recovery, there would be 19,000 more jobs today. Maine’s wages are 20 percent lower, on average, than wages across the U.S.--even those states with similar demographics like Vermont and New Hampshire have higher average wages.

    “The next two years will be pivotal for our economy. Even though we’ve dug out of the recession, wages have remained stagnant and the cost of living has gone up,” said Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland. “We have to ensure the next generation can get a better shot at the American Dream. We need to give young Mainers a reason to stay here and others a reason to relocate here. We can’t simply leave it to chance that people willdiscover how great Maine is. We have to show them—and encourage them.”

    Democratic and Republican lawmakers have submitted 1,700 bills for consideration during the 127th Legislature. Committees will begin reviewing bills in the coming weeks.