Maine workers celebrate first minimum wage increase since Baldacci administration


By Ramona du Houx

Maine workers across the state celebrated their first minimum wage increase since Baldacci administration on January 7, 2017, when the outcome of the November voter referendum became law.

Under the law the minimum wage increased from $7.50/hour to $9/hour and will increase a dollar each year until it hits $12 in 2020, after which it will be indexed to inflation.

Over 103,000 Mainers who make minimum wage have been positively affected by the increase, along with their families. The ripple effect in the community, as more will have a bit more to spend, will also help businesses.

“It will make a huge difference to make that little bit more an hour. It makes it more possible to support yourself and support your family,” said Liz McArthur, a waitress living in Lewiston. McArthur supports her three-year-old daughter and is working her way through nursing school waiting tables.

Tipped workers, like McArthur still have obstacles to overcome. The minimum wage for tipped workers was meant to go up from $3.50/hour to $5/hour and then gradually increase until it reaches the full minimum wage in 2027 but Governor Paul LePage put a halt to that provision, saying that the people didn’t “know what they voted for.”

Lawmakers have proposed bills that would change the minimum wage for tipped workers, in order, they say, to reach a compromise with LePage. The Maine Labor Department says it won't enforce this part of the voted approved section of the minimum wage referendum for tipped workers until January 31, 2017.

“The other night when I went into work I actually made no money because it was icy out and no one came in except one table and the other server got the table,” said McArthur.

The minimum wage increase won the support of 55.5 percent of the electorate. Over 600 small business owners from across Maine publicly supported the referendum. Those who will see an increase include the parents of 43,000 children and more than one in three workers over the age of 65.

Click on the above or HERE to see the exhibit.

“I never thought I’d still be working at my age, let alone for $7.50 an hour, but I’ve learned I’m far from alone,” said Kathy Rondone, a 72-year-old from Augusta who returned to work when her husband of 40 years was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. “I don't think people realize how many senior citizens often have to keep working after what you might think is retirement age.”

LePage, Republican lawmakers and lobbyists that are attempting to roll back the tip-waged portion of the law will face strong opposition from a minimum wage movement energized by their success at the ballot.

“The people of Maine have spoken clearly and the minimum wage increase is now law. Today, it’s a little easier for tens of thousands of Maine mothers to feed their families and we’re that much closer to creating an economy that works for everyone,” said Mainers for Fair Wages campaign manager Amy Halsted.