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  • Democrats Stand Firm against Republican Efforts to Cut new Maine Minimum Wage

     

     By Ramona du Houx

    Democratic lawmakers on the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee soundly rejected a rollback of Maine’s minimum wage increase on February 8, 2018. The Republican attempt at a roll back came after a people's referendum increased the minimum wage last month and will continue to do so until it reaches $11 a hour.

    “These efforts to undermine the minimum wage increase will continue to fail because Mainers recognize that people deserve a wage they can live on, and while the cost of living has gone up year after year, for a lot of Maine people, paychecks have not.

    "I refuse to choose winners and losers. We can commit ourselves to ensuring small businesses can succeed without taking money from the paychecks of hardworking families,” said Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development House chair Representative Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford.

    LD 1757 “An Act to Protect Maine’s Economy by Slowing the Rate and Which the State’s Minimum Wage Will Increase and Establishing a Training and Youth Wage” sponsored by Representative Joel Stetkis, R-Canaan, was voted Ought Not to Pass on a party line vote.

    “I don’t know how many more times we have to say this: Democrats will not allow a rollback in Maine’s minimum wage increase, period,” said Rep. Fecteau. “Despite the doomsday predictions Republicans still pedal, 59,000 hard-working Mainers got an overdue raise just last month that went directly into their pockets and the cash registers of our local businesses, strengthening Maine’s economy and our communities.”

    Graphic by Ramona du houx

    LD 1757 as originally drafted would cut the current minimum wage of $10 per hour to $9.50 per hour beginning in June of this year, and reduce the annual increases in Maine’s minimum wage from $1 a year to 50 cents per year and cap the increase at $11 per hour instead of the current expected rate of $12 an hour by 2021. The bill also establishes a lower “training wage” for employees under the age of 18.

    Republicans on the committee voted LD 1757 Ought to Pass as Amended. The amended bill would increase the minimum wage to $10.50 starting January 1, 2020 and increase the minimum wage by 50 cent increments until 2023 to $12 an hour. Starting January 1, 2024, minimum wage would increase with inflation instead of the Consumer Price Index as in current law. The bill would also stipulate that employees under the age of 18 would be paid 80 percent of the minimum wage for the first 200 hours of their work. 

    LD 1757 will be considered by the full House and Senate in the coming weeks.

  • Jackson Laboratory sees benefit in raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour




     The Jackson Laboratory has announced a major adjustment in its wage scales for close to 43 percent of its workforce. Nearly 800 employees will benefit from the raise. 

    With the exception of employees in their first six months of training, the lowest wage for full-time workers will now be $15 per hour. The total increase in payroll is expected to be $3.8 million annually.

     Affected employees come from nearly 60 towns around eastern Maine and Waldo County. They are frontline staff working in animal care and positions supporting the laboratory’s research, administration and operations. The average starting salary in many of the affected jobs had been between $10 and $11 per hour.

    “Jackson Laboratory has long recognized that employees are its greatest asset and is proud to be a leader in recognizing and rewarding hourly workers,” stated Chief Operating Officer Charles Hewitt. “This increase in wage scales rewards their improved productivity and increased contribution to the laboratory’s success. It reflects the laboratory’s understanding of the importance of these roles and both the board’s and management’s on-going commitment to reward the entire laboratory workforce fairly and appropriately.”

    According to Hewitt the laboratory is hoping that the increase in its wage scales will help ensure employee retention as well as assist in attracting and hiring committed new employees as the laboratory grows and prospers. Many other facilities across the US have put this model into motion, realizing retention is a huge benefit to company growth and having a stable happy workforce increases productivity.

    The ripple effect in communities where the labs employees live will palpably help local economies. “Business are recognizing that raising wages is in fact good for business,” said the Former Bangor Mayor and current Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci.

    The Jackson Laboratory received many grants funded by voter-approved bonds during the Baldacci administration, which allowed the non-profit research laboratory to expand and increase their research and development. After the initial Maine grants, federal awards followed.

    This November Mainers will be given a chance to increase the state’s minimum wage. The Mainers for Fair Wages citizens’ initiative would raise Maine’s minimum wage to $9 in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that it would increase at the same rate as the cost of living. The initiative would also incrementally raise the tipped minimum wage, until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024.

    Maine’s current minimum wage is $7.50 compared to the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Governor John E. Baldacci was the last governor to increase it.

    The Economic Policy Institute estimates that gradually increasing the wage to $12 per hour would give over 120,000 Maine workers—more than a fifth of the state’s workforce—a raise.    

    Jackson Laboratory plans to shift all of its East Coast mouse production operations to the former Lowe’s building in Ellsworth by 2018. It is expected the Ellsworth facility will employ 230 workers, and three-quarters of those will be new hires with the rest relocating from working in Bar Harbor.

  • Gov. LePage admits he does not know what Maine’s minimum wage is

    A minimum wage spaghetti dinner hosted by John and Joe Baldacci is Augusta, Maine's Capitol city. photos by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine Democratic Party (MDP) Chairman Phil Bartlett today called out Gov. Paul LePage for the governor’s admission that he did know Maine’s minimum wage because he did not know anyone earning it.

    The Portland Press Herald reported yesterday that at two recent town halls, Gov. LePage stated that Maine’s minimum wage, which is $7.50 per hour, was $7.65.

    MDP Phill Bartlett at the Baldacci's Spaghetti Dinner to raise the minimum wage in Augusta held May 11th. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    "The minimum wage right now is $7.50 or $7.65. Whatever the rate is, I’m not even sure because quite frankly I don’t know of anybody that, personally, is working the minimum wage,” said Gov. LePage.

    The last Maine Governor to raise the minimum wage was John E. Baldacci.

    “Gov. LePage has not only vetoed legislation (8 times) to raise Maine’s minimum wage, he’s ridiculed restaurant workers who receive it. Now Gov. LePage blatantly admits that he doesn’t even know what the minimum wage is because he doesn’t know anyone in a minimum wage job” said MDP Chairman Bartlett. 

    Maine’s current minimum wage forces far too many families onto welfare rolls, and the need for federally subsidized healthcare. Someone working 40 hours a week at the minimum wage of $7.50, would earn $300 each week—or approximately $15,600 every year—well below the federal poverty line for families of two or more.

    Up until the early 1980s, an annual minimum-wage income—after adjusting for inflation—was enough to keep a family of two above the poverty line. At its high point in 1968, the minimum wage was high enough for a family of three to be above the poverty line with the earnings of a full-time minimum-wage worker. The falling minimum wage has led to poverty and inequality.

    “Historically low wages are being paid because that is what the inadequate law—which doesn't increase at the same rate as the cost of living—says workers can be paid. This out-of-date law undervalues the hard work of too many people. Nobody working a 40 hour week should live in poverty,” said Former Governor John Baldacci. “We hope our dinner helped generate support for a statewide minimum wage increase.”

    A ballot measure that would raise Maine’s minimum wage will be decided this Novemeber by the people of Maine. If passed it 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.

    "This governor is astonishingly out-of-touch with the 1.3 million people he was elected to serve. I challenge Gov. LePage to introduce himself to the next person who prepares his food, or rings up his purchase, or mops a floor he walks on. He may be surprised to learn just how quickly he can meet someone who is earning the minimum wage,” challenged MDP Chairman Bartlett.

    At the federal level President Barack Obama has been pushing for an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10. His focus on the issue has spurred states to take action, and he mandated federal workers must have the $10.10 minimum. But the majority of Republicans in Congress have consistently stopped any action to increase the minimum wage.

    In 2013, Poliquin opposed raising the minimum wage in Maine to $9 an hour, claiming that the only minimum wage workers were teenagers living at home who don’t need more money.

    "I'm proud to have voted multiple times to raise the minimum wage and stand up for our neighbors and friends who are struggling to take care of their families," said Emily Cain, who is running for Congress in the 2nd District. Cain served in the Maine State House and Senate.

    “Congressman Poliquin not only opposes raising the minimum wage but voted to strip minimum wage protections from construction workers receiving federal money. We deserve a member of Congress who will stand up for working Mainers, not for Wall Street.”

    Current law, The Davis-Bacon Act, requires that workers on federally funded construction projects be paid the prevailing wage in whichever jurisdiction a construction project is taking place. Essentially, it prohibits companies using federal money from scamming their workers by not paying the wages required by local law. Twice in 2015, Poliquin voted for amendments that would prohibit the enforcement of this requirement.

    RIGHT: Former State Rep. Emily Cain at work in Augusta. photo by Ramona du Houx

    Six months after the minimum wage in Seattle, Washington jumped to $11 an hour—on its way to $15—the restaurant industry has continued to boom, despite dire predictions.

    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 are supporting families, according to calculations by the Economic Policy Institute.

    The EPI estimates that gradually increasing the wage to $12 per hour would give over 120,000 Maine workers—more than a fifth of the state’s workforce—a raise.

    EPI calculates a $12 minimum wage would mean: 

    • 60 percent of the workers who would be affected are women.
    • 85 percent are over the age of 20.
    • 75 percent work in service, sales, and office and administrative support occupations.
    • 75 percent work in: retail, education and health services, and leisure and hospitality.
    • 40,000 children have at least one parent who would get a raise from this change.

  • Nobody Should be Working Full-Time and Still Live in Poverty

    Editorial by Mark Eves, the Maine Speaker of the House

    On Wednesday, May 11, I’m looking forward to joining the Baldacci family as they host a spaghetti supper in support of raising the minimum wage. The dinner, at $5 per person, will be held 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Cony High School, 60 Pierce Drive, in Augusta.

    The dinner is focused on why raising the minimum wage is so important for our state, and I want to take a minute to share why I’ll be supporting the minimum wage referendum on this year’s ballot.

    Like so many Mainers, my wife and I worry about how to make ends meet. We worry how we’ll balance our car payments and grocery bills with the hopes of sending our three kids to college and whether we’ll actually be able to care for our parents as they get older.

    And just like our neighbors, we’re willing to work hard to make up the gaps. Mainers don’t want things handed to us. We just want providing for our families and saving for our kids’ future to be a little less difficult.

    No Mainer should be working full time and still live in poverty.

    Yet that’s the reality for too many families that depend on a minimum wage salary.

    Despite rising costs for basic needs, our state’s minimum wage has remained at $7.50 an hour since 2009.

    Maine’s economic future depends on the strength of our workforce, the ability of our families to invest in their children, and the success of our businesses.

    Raising the minimum wage in Maine is a critically important and long overdue move, both for families struggling to get by on low wages and our lagging economy. By putting money back into the pockets of Mainers who will spend it in their communities we can jump start our businesses, help reduce poverty, and begin to keep pace with other states who continue to get ahead.

    In November voters will decide on a referendum that would raise Maine’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 an hour in 2017 and then a dollar a year until it reaches $12 an hour in 2020. Further increases would be tied to the cost of living, and the current subminimum wage for employees such as restaurant workers who receive tips would be phased out over a longer period of time.

    Almost 100,000 full-time workers in Maine would directly benefit from an increase in Maine’s minimum wage. Overall, 29 percent of all workers in our state would see an increase. And, more than 52,000 Maine children would benefit from one or both parents getting a raise.

    I’ve heard countless stories from Mainers, including parents like Katie Logue of Auburn, who work full time at low-wage jobs and struggle to afford the basic necessities that they need to provide for their families. Katie had to rely on food assistance and was even homeless despite working full time at a convenience store for $8 an hour.

    Beyond ensuring people like Katie are finally paid what they are worth, it’s the right thing to do to make sure every Mainer can bring a paycheck home that makes it possible to provide for their family.

    Raising the minimum wage is also the smart thing to do for Maine’s businesses statewide.

    Hundreds of business owners, such as Adam Lee, chairman of Lee Auto Malls, have already come out in support of raising Maine’s minimum wage.

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

    Maine desperately needs this economic growth at a time when our businesses continue to struggle with regional, national and international competition.

    This legislative session we raised wages for law enforcement officers serving on the front lines and mental health and direct-care workers who take care of our most vulnerable.

    Hard-working Maine families also deserve a raise.

    Raising Maine’s minimum wage is the right thing to do for our families, our businesses, and our economy.

    By Mark Eves, the Maine Speaker of the House

  • 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.
     

  • Maine's Minimum Wage campaign to submit enough signatures for ballot



    On January 14, over 100 low-wage workers, supportive small business owners, and volunteers with Mainers for Fair Wages will hold a rally and media event in support of the referendum to raise Maine’s minimum wage and deliver more than 80,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's office, more than enough to qualify for the November 2016 ballot.

    "I work at a convenience store for just over the state minimum wage and I struggle to support myself and my family. When you're this close to the edge, one emergency can ruin everything. It wasn't too long ago that we were forced to live in a homeless shelter, while I was working full time but unable to keep up with the bills," said Katie Logue of Auburn, a campaign volunteer.

    In June of 2015, Mainers for Fair Wages, a coalition including the Maine People's Alliance, Maine Small Business Coalition, and Maine AFL-CIO, launched the citizen initiative to raise Maine's minimum wage to $9 per hour in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that it 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.
     "It just isn't right that there are people like me all over the state who are working hard every day but can't get ahead. That's why I helped to collect hundreds of signatures to get this measure on the ballot, boost our state economy and help tens of thousands of struggling Mainers." said Logue.

  • To lawmakers: Support a Maine Minimum Wage increase - for moms and kids

    By Katie Logue, Auburn

    There are so many ways that the economy is rigged against women and families and I have seen the impacts first-hand. A few years ago, I was a single mom struggling to make ends meet, making slightly more than the minimum wage ($8 per hour) and trying to support myself and my 6-year-old after my marriage failed.

    My son and I were on food stamps and MaineCare, even though I was working full time. No matter how hard I tried to find appropriate housing, there was no way I could afford $900-$1,000 a month for rent. I had a car payment for a car that wasn’t even safe but was my only way to get to work. Even after I finally saved enough to get an apartment, it was impossible to keep up with the bills.

    At one point, after being evicted, I was living in a homeless shelter while working full time to save enough to get another apartment.

    I know that I am not the only one who has struggled to support my family on poverty wages. I also know that this issue affects women much more than men.

    The majority of minimum-wage workers are women, many of us supporting families.

    Here in Maine, women still earn, on average, just 84 percent of what our male counterparts earn. It is time for a change.

    In January, the Legislature will consider citizen-initiated legislation to increase Maine’s minimum wage. Lawmakers and voters should stand with Maine women and support it. First appeared in the Sun Journal.

  • Portland, Maine's minimum wage will give all workers a boost

    The new law honors the hardworking service workers in our city while making sure that all participants can prosper.

    With federal and state governments stalled, the Portland City Council listened to residents, economists and other knowledgeable people, then stepped up and enacted a higher minimum wage. As Gov. LePage has said on other subjects, important decisions should be left to the government operating closest to the people.

    On Jan. 1, 2016, Portland’s minimum wage for all workers will rise from the state minimum of $7.50 to $10.10. A year later, it increases to $10.68 and annually thereafter will increase with the cost of living.

    With the council vote, Portland became one of just 20 of the nation’s 20,000 municipalities to adopt a wage above prevailing state and federal minimums. No other municipality in New England or the Eastern Seaboard outside Washington, D.C., has done so.

    What we know is that a higher minimum wage will put more money in the pockets of the lowest paid workers. It will help families make ends meet and get more money circulating in the local economy. For some employers, it will require an adjustment and their concerns were expressed and considered. This increase, however, puts the minimum wage back in line with historic levels adjusted for inflation. The raise was overdue. The new wage is in line with research showing a minimum wage set at 60 percent of area median wages yields economic benefits but forcing wages higher than that stifles employment. The median hourly wage in Portland’s region is $17.32, well below the national median of $24.99.

    We need to be aware of the limits. Portland cannot simply compel high wages and prosperity. The good news for Portland workers: When the new law is implemented, our cost-of-living-adjusted minimum wage will jump from the sixth lowest to the 12th highest in the country. The new law also enables underpaid workers to bring a legal action for lost wages by making violators responsible for court costs and attorneys’ fees.

    At final passage, one provision got disproportionate attention. The “direct” or “base” wage for tipped workers is the amount an employer must pay a tipped worker no matter how much that worker eventually makes in tips. The state’s base wage is $3.75, substantially higher than the federal $2.13 that prevails in 19 states. In fact, about half the country has a state base tipped wage of less than $3 per hour.

    A majority of the council decided not to increase the base tipped wage. The law in Portland will require that all workers, whether tipped or not, young or old, be paid at least the minimum wage. When tipped workers do not receive enough tips to earn the new higher minimum, employers must make up the difference. Employees retain all tips.

    Over the months of discussion, I talked with tipped workers. Many report consistently making more than the minimum wage. Of those whose tips leave them short of the new minimum wage, most said that their employers make up the difference as required by law.

    If Portland raised the base wage, only two groups of employees would see any more money: 1) those already making more than the new higher minimum wage; and 2) any tipped workers whose employers do not follow the minimum wage law but would follow the base wage provision. I was not persuaded that city government should force businesses to give raises to people who make above the minimum wage in order to try to outmaneuver law violators.

    During public debate, some residents called into question the whole system where tipped workers must depend on the whims of customers for much of their compensation. Others pointed to other workplace hazards and indignities. We heard moving testimony on these matters.

    Those testifying made good points. Clearly, achieving just outcomes at work remains unfinished business no matter what we do regarding the minimum wage.

    What Portland achieved on the minimum wage demonstrates leadership. A raise was plainly needed. We could no longer leave the workers waiting for Congress or our governor to do the right thing.

    We took the time to enact an ambitious increase without taking unprecedented economic risks for a small city, one with a vital and very important service sector. Portland’s new minimum wage law honors the hardworking service workers in our city while making sure that all participants can prosper and contribute to making a vibrant economy.

  • If waitresses earned a decent minimum wage, our dignity might get a raise

    Editorial by Annie Quandt, a server working in the Old Port and a resident of Westport Island. First appeared in the PPH

    While I’ve never had someone completely stiff me because it took them a while to get their food – the customers’ rationale in the New Jersey incident, as they noted on the receipt – I frequently find myself putting up with almost anything from customers in order to get the tips that make up half of my income.

    In Maine, 82 percent of all tipped restaurant workers are women, and any woman who has worked for tips will tell you that sexual harassment and rude comments are, sadly, just another part of the job.

    When your customers pay your wages instead of your employer, you don’t have the luxury of speaking up when you feel uncomfortable or disrespected; if rent is due that week or you have a family to feed, you just have to put up with it.

    I’ve been working at a restaurant on Commercial Street in Portland for just about a year now, and I just picked up a second serving job on Commercial Street to make ends meet. Recently, two men came in, clearly intoxicated, and sat at their table for an hour and a half trying to look up the waitresses’ skirts.

    All of the women working that night could feel these men leering and were uncomfortable and anxious the whole shift. When we complained to management, they told us to cut off their alcohol consumption – but nothing else was done.

    These types of incidents are commonplace in the restaurant industry. I have been asked out on dates, with the customer’s pen hovering over the tip line as he waited for my answer. I have been asked for my number more times than I can count. I have had customers comment on my outfit or my body while I’m working. I’ve wanted to say something, but the customer is always right … right?

    When women servers can’t defend themselves from rude behavior from customers, the entire restaurant culture begins to accept it as the norm. Even management plays a role in harassment in this industry.

    If you’re not “date ready” when you show up for your shift, in some restaurants, you’ll be told to change or unbutton your top or to put on more makeup to make yourself appealing. In my case, the managers have made it clear that the curvier girls are not allowed to wear certain clothing items, while the more slender servers can wear whatever they want to work.

    Comments like this about body types and personal style not only make us all feel watched and uncomfortable but also sometimes make it more difficult for us to do our jobs. When I’m sweeping and cleaning and doing side work in 95-degree heat, the freedom to wear a skirt versus jeans is almost a necessity.

    Complaints about sexual harassment from co-workers are rarely taken seriously in restaurants. It is always tough to report unwanted attention or harassment from co-workers or customers, but it is especially difficult if the harassment comes from management.

    Where do you turn when the person who holds power over you at your job is the one harassing you? What happens if you do make a formal complaint? The restaurant industry is a tight-knit community, and if any employer thinks you might be a hassle, they won’t hire you.

    Servers wield so little power in their positions and in their wages, and I am inclined to think that the two are inextricably linked.

    According to a Restaurant Opportunities Centers United survey, servers working in states like Maine – where there is a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers – are three times more likely to experience harassment on the job than servers who work in states where everyone makes the same minimum wage.

    This is evidence of a systemic problem – combined with the fact that, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 7 percent of American women work in restaurants but 37 percent of all EEOC sexual harassment complaints come out of this industry. We’re allowing an entire industry full of hardworking women to go to work with the presumption that they will be harassed.

    I support the 2016 “wages with dignity” referendum, which would raise the minimum to $12 by 2020 and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers by 2024. Earning the same minimum wage as other workers would mean tipped workers wouldn’t feel like they have to ingratiate themselves with their customers regardless of their behavior.

    It would mean that management and our co-workers would have to respect us as equals (because when you are paid less, you must obviously be worth less). And it would mean a stable wage for the long winters and tough weekday shifts when servers are more willing to sacrifice dignity at work in order to make ends meet.

    I deserve dignity on the job, and one fair minimum wage would help me get it.

  • Survey finds 87% of Maine business owners support minimum wage referendum and want a fair tax system


    Main Street Alliance (MSA), a national organization committed to providing a voice for small business owners, today released the results of a survey of over 1,000 small business owners on varied public policy issues. The small business owners were asked about issues ranging from corporate taxes to job quality issues, as well as local policies that affect small businesses. The results of the surveys reveal that many small business owners share views at odds with the most high-profile business lobby groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

    In Maine, a huge majority (87 percent) of surveyed small business owners support the proposed referendum to raise Maine's minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020. The referendum is sponsored by the Maine People's Alliance and has been endorsed by the Maine Small Business Coalition.

    John Costin, who was featured in the report and owns Veneer Services Unlimited in Kennebunk.

    "Raising the minimum wage in Maine will help keep our products and services affordable and attainable to a larger customer base. Increased demand for our work will help us continue to create high-paying jobs - reducing unemployment and increasing sales, driving growth throughout the state," said John Costin, who was featured in the report and owns Veneer Services Unlimited in Kennebunk. 

    Nearly three-quarters of surveyed small business owners said that large corporations currently pay less than their fair share of taxes (72 percent) and that corporate tax loopholes hurt small businesses (74 percent).

    "These findings reveal that small business owners agree with most Americans that our tax code is tipped towards the elite that can afford high powered lobbyists," said Will Ikard, director of the Maine Small Business Coalition, which is a local affiliate of MSA. "Not only are hard-working Maine employees suffering from an unfair tax system, hard-working small business owners are too."



    In response to questions about job quality and worker protection laws, small business owners again differed from the aggressive lobbying of those business groups with the most national influence. For example, supermajorities of respondents support a federal paid sick day policy (65 percent) and a paid family leave policy (64 percent).

    "In order to sustain [our] growth, we must ensure that Mainers can afford products and services that companies like mine provide," said Costin. "Increased demand for our work will help us continue to create high-paying jobs - reducing unemployment and increasing sales, driving growth throughout the state."

  • Gallery Insights: People at Work: The Low Wage Earners of Maine, photography by Jeff Kirlin

    To bring more attention to Maine artists, and creatives associated with Maine our publication will help promote online monthly shows with Insights Gallery.

    OCTOBER- NOVEMBER EXHIBIT

    This documentary photographic series, People at Work: The Low Wage Earners of Maine, depicts some of our fellow neighbors who work for the state’s minimum wage of just $7.50 an hour. The dedicated photographer, Jeff Kirlin, works in his free time documenting them. This is just a sample from his series.

    “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.”

    View in more detail HERE.

  • Portland’s minimum wage will give all workers a boost

    The new law honors the hardworking service workers in our city while making sure that all participants can prosper

    By Jon Hinck in the Portland Press Herald

    Portland’s minimum wage workers, like others across America, were overdue for a raise. With federal and state governments stalled, the Portland City Council listened to residents, economists and other knowledgeable people, then stepped up and enacted a higher minimum wage.
    As Gov. LePage has said on other subjects, important decisions should be left to the government operating closest to the people. On Jan. 1, 2016, Portland’s minimum wage for all workers will rise from the state minimum of $7.50 to $10.10. A year later, it increases to $10.68 and annually thereafter will increase with the cost of living.
    With the council vote, Portland became one of just 20 of the nation’s 20,000 municipalities to adopt a wage above prevailing state and federal minimums. No other municipality in New England or the Eastern Seaboard outside Washington, D.C., has done so.
    What we know is that a higher minimum wage will put more money in the pockets of the lowest paid workers. It will help families make ends meet and get more money circulating in the local economy. For some employers, it will require an adjustment and their concerns were expressed and considered. This increase, however, puts the minimum wage back in line with historic levels adjusted for inflation. The raise was overdue.
    The new wage is in line with research showing a minimum wage set at 60 percent of area median wages yields economic benefits but forcing wages higher than that stifles employment. The median hourly wage in Portland’s region is $17.32, well below the national median of $24.99.
    We need to be aware of the limits. Portland cannot simply compel high wages and prosperity.
    The good news for Portland workers: When the new law is implemented, our cost-of-living-adjusted minimum wage will jump from the sixth lowest to the 12th highest in the country.
    The new law also enables underpaid workers to bring a legal action for lost wages by making violators responsible for court costs and attorneys’ fees. At final passage, one provision got disproportionate attention.
    The “direct” or “base” wage for tipped workers is the amount an employer must pay a tipped worker no matter how much that worker eventually makes in tips. The state’s base wage is $3.75, substantially higher than the federal $2.13 that prevails in 19 states.
    In fact, about half the country has a state base tipped wage of less than $3 per hour.
    A majority of the council decided not to increase the base tipped wage. The law in Portland will require that all workers, whether tipped or not, young or old, be paid at least the minimum wage.
    When tipped workers do not receive enough tips to earn the new higher minimum, employers must make up the difference. Employees retain all tips.
    Over the months of discussion, I talked with tipped workers. Many report consistently making more than the minimum wage. Of those whose tips leave them short of the new minimum wage, most said that their employers make up the difference as required by law.
    If Portland raised the base wage, only two groups of employees would see any more money:
    1) those already making more than the new higher minimum wage; and 2) any tipped workers whose employers do not follow the minimum wage law but would follow the base wage provision.
    I was not persuaded that city government should force businesses to give raises to people who make above the minimum wage in order to try to outmaneuver law violators.
    During public debate, some residents called into question the whole system where tipped workers must depend on the whims of customers for much of their compensation. Others pointed to other workplace hazards and indignities. We heard moving testimony on these matters. Those testifying made good points.
    Clearly, achieving just outcomes at work remains unfinished business no matter what we do regarding the minimum wage.
    What Portland achieved on the minimum wage demonstrates leadership. A raise was plainly needed. We could no longer leave the workers waiting for Congress or our governor to do the right thing.
    We took the time to enact an ambitious increase without taking unprecedented economic risks for a small city, one with a vital and very important service sector. Portland’s new minimum wage law honors the hardworking service workers in our city while making sure that all participants can prosper and contribute to making a vibrant economy.
  • Raising the Bangor minimum wage talks continue in Bangor, Maine

    By Ramona du Houx

    City Councilor Joe Baldacci at a Bangor city council meeting being interviewed by the press. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    The City Council’s Business and Economic Development Committee took new action on August 18th to progress the minimum wage issue.

    Earlier this year, Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci’s proposed an ordinance that would increase the local minimum wage from $7.50 per hour to $8.25 per hour on Jan. 1, 2016, and eventually increase it to $9.75 per hour in 2018. After that, the Bangor minimum wage would fluctuate with the consumer price index to keep up with inflation.

     At the meeting a compromise proposal authored by Councilor Josh Plourde was discussed that included a council resolve to support the Maine People’s Alliance referendum on the November 2016 ballot that would increase the minimum wage statewide to $12 an hour.

    The compromise does not exempt tipped workers, workers under the age of 18 or businesses with five or fewer workers. Baldacci is in favor of these changes but he would prefer to enact a local wage hike sooner than waiting for the referendum of 2016 to pass. Too many local citizens need a minimum wage increase — now.

     “We are moving in the right direction. The right direction is raising people's wages. Sometimes this process takes longer than any of us like. But I try to keep my eyes on the prize. And the prize here is raising wages for hard working people,” said Baldacci.

    The MPA proposal would also increase the minimum wage for tipped workers to $5 per hour in 2017 and by $1 per hour each year until it reaches $12 per hour no later than 2024.

    Currently, employers of tipped workers are only allowed to credit half of the statewide minimum wage, $3.75 per hour, to tips.

    “The proposed ordinance's endorsement of raising the minimum wage for tipped workers over several years to the same level as for all other employees is encouraging. One fair wage would improve the lives of tens of thousands of the lowest-paid employees in the state, 80 percent of whom are women,” said MPA Communications Director Mike Tipping.

    “These steps to support a statewide minimum wage increase should not, however, prevent city councilors from acting to increase wages for Bangor residents more quickly than a statewide referendum would allow. The existing proposal to increase the minimum wage in Bangor starting in January 2016 should be strengthened and passed. The city council owes it to the thousands of Bangor residents working hard for long hours and struggling to scrape by on poverty wages.”

  • Portland, ME's City Council votes 6-3 in favor of a minimum wage increase starting at $10.10

    By Ramona du Houx

    In 2014 Portland’s Mayor, Michael Brennan, proposed a minimum wage of $9.50 an hour starting July 1, 2015 and ending at $10.68 on Jan. 1, 2017 with indexing. After a year of debate on the issue, during which lobbyists from the Portland Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Innkeepers Association and the Maine Restaurant Association tried to prevent a substantial wage increase, eliminate indexing, exclude young workers, and gut enforcement provisions, the city council decided.

    On July 5th, going against the city’s finance committee, the Portland City Council voted to create a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour that starts on January 1, 2016. The wage will rise to $10.68 an hour in 2017. A year later it will increase on July 1 at the same rate as the Consumer Price Index. The city council is widely expected to place the question on the November ballot.

    Maine People’s Alliance is teaming up with the Maine AFL-CIO to enact a $12 statewide increase by referendum in 2016.

    And the Green Party in Portland will ask citizens to increase the wage to $15 an hour.

    Hillary Clinton and Sanders both are advocating for a minimum wage increase.

  • Minimum Wage and Middle Class issues to be discussed at Lewiston spaghetti dinner/forum

    By Ramona du Houx,  June 22, 2015
    Former Bangor Mayor Joe Baldacci is hosting a spaghetti dinner/minimum wage forum on Friday June 26th at the Elks Lodge #371, 1675 Lisbon Street in Lewiston, from 5pm-7pm.

    “These spaghetti dinners have always been a great opportunity to bring the community together for a family dinner that encourages discussion and unity on important working class issues,” said Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci.

    Maine businessman Jim Wellehan, healthcare activist and entrepreneur Donato Tramuto, Auburn State Rep. Gina Melargno, former state senator Eloise Vitelli, and former Lewiston Planning Director Jim Lysen will speak about raising the minimum wage in Maine.

    Speakers will address the dire economic situation faced by low income Mainers and the need for local and state level action to increase the minimum wage. According to the non-partisan Economic Policy Institute (EPI) the federal minimum wage of $7.25 is worth $2 less today than it was in 1968 when adjusted for inflation. The EPI study found a full-time worker would need to earn $11.06 an hour in 2011 to keep a family of four out of poverty.

    Someone working 40 hours a week at the federal minimum wage of $7.25, would earn $290 each week—or $15,080 every year—$4,610 below the federal poverty level.

    In Lewiston, according to the MIT living wage calculator, at today’s state minimum wage of $7.50 a single adult would have to work 53 hours per week simply to pay for basic sustenance.

    “Nobody working a 40 hour week should live in poverty,” said Councilor Baldacci. (photo below)

    State Rep. Gina Melargno will talk about her bill to raise the wage as well as other efforts lawmakers have made in Augusta towards this goal. “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 Rep. Melaragno, who submitted An Act To Raise the Minimum Wage and Index It to the National Average Wage. “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.”

    Maine’s $7.50 minimum wage is currently $3 less than what MIT calculates it should be at $10.61 for a single adult. Christy Daggett’s, a researcher at the Maine Center of Economic Policy, estimates $15.82 would be a livable wage. Maine’s current minimum wage forces far too families onto welfare roles and the need for federally subsidized healthcare.

    “I have been in the health care industry for over 35 years and I have seen study after study that has verified that for those in the vulnerable wage bracket, their health outcomes are not as favorable as those who have the means to seek high quality healthcare. And that raises this issue of the minimum wage to more than an economic problem — it is also a health problem,” said Donato Tramuto. “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights — Article 25 —states very clearly that accessing medical care is a basic human right for every single person on this earth. And when one person is unable to access healthcare, we have violated that most basic human right.”

    According to MIT’s local wage calculator, at today’s minimum wage a single mother in Lewiston would have to work 138 hours per week just to survive without government assistance programs like Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

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

    Jim Lysen, former Lewiston Planning Director, will speak on how people can get involved with the Maine Peoples Alliance’s petition drive to steadily increase the minimum wage to $12. Petitioners will be in attendance.

    The EPI estimates that gradually increasing the wage to $12 per hour would give over 120,000 Maine workers—more than a fifth of the state’s workforce—a raise.

    EPI calculates a $12 minimum wage would mean:

    • 60 percent of the workers who would be effected are women.

    • 85 percent are over the age of 20.

    • 75 percent work in service, sales, and office and administrative support occupations.

    • 75 percent work in: retail, education and health services, and leisure and hospitality.

    • 40,000 children have at least one parent who would get a raise from this change.

    In Lewiston-Auburn specifically, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a minimum wage increase would give an immediate raise to over 25% of the workforce

    “I hope this dinner, and other events that we lead across the state, will help generate a grassroots push for a statewide minimum wage increase,” said Councilor Baldacci.

    Last February Councilor Joe Baldacci proposed a local ordinance that would incrementally increase the minimum wage in the city, beginning with a bump to $8.25 per hour in 2016, advancing to $9 per hour in 2017 and going to $9.75 in 2018.

    This spaghetti dinner is part of a series that Councilor Baldacci will hosting across the state to generate support and awareness for raising the minimum wage as well as to give people information about the Maine Peoples Alliance’s minimum wage petition drive. There will be upcoming events in Bangor, Portland, Millinocket, and Presque Isle.

    Joe Baldacci has already held a town forum in Bangor, and spoke on the issue in Waldo County, and Washington County.

    For decades the Baldacci family ran an Italian restaurant in Bangor. Momma Baldacci’s became a meeting place known for its food, conversation, and community atmosphere.

    That led to the Baldacci’s hosting spaghetti dinners to raise money for local charities and support issues relevant to working families.

    All of the proceeds from this dinner will go to New Beginnings of Lewiston, a local nonprofit that “helps 700 homeless young people and families in crisis work toward a brighter future each year,” said New Beginnings Program Development Director Rachel Spencer-Reed. “Changes in income directly impact the young people we serve and their ability to secure and maintain housing. We are grateful that Joe is bringing this town hall event to Lewiston/Auburn. The proceeds from the dinner will be used to support the expansion of our Drop-In Center for homeless youth in Lewiston.”

    Read more please go: To Raise ME Wage

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