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]