The Coastal Packet: Next: Drive for $12 minimum wage

Friday, November 6

Next: Drive for $12 minimum wage

Press Herald - A day after Portland voters rejected a $15-an-hour minimum wage, advocates were already focused on the next target: a statewide minimum wage of $12 an hour by 2020.

Mainers for Fair Wages said it collected more than 30,000 signatures at the polls Tuesday for a statewide referendum on the $12 wage. With more than 90,000 signatures in hand, that puts the organization well above the 61,123 needed to qualify for a spot on the 2016 ballot, said Mike Tipping, spokesman for the group, which is backed by the Maine People’s Alliance, the Maine Small Business Coalition and the Maine AFL-CIO. Related Headlines

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“We doubled our signature goal across the state” using volunteers collecting signatures at more than 100 polls, Tipping said.

He said those volunteers heard from people who agreed that the state’s current minimum wage of $7.50 is too low. And while $15 an hour might have been too much of an increase for Portland voters to swallow, Tipping said Mainers for Fair Wages believes $12 an hour will be more palatable.

That was the case Tuesday in Tacoma, Washington, where a two-step voting process had residents first endorsing a higher minimum wage, and then selecting an increase to $12 over an option to increase it to $15.

“People realize that a living wage in Maine is closer to $16 an hour,” Tipping said. “Our campaign doesn’t get us there, but we need to get closer.”

An increase to $12 an hour would be welcome news to Ambre Davidson, a single mother in Portland who voted for the $15 minimum wage Tuesday even though she doubted it would pass.

She said $12 an hour seems more reasonable and more likely to pass, and would make “a huge impact.”

“I think that’s just a great idea,” she said of the Mainers for Fair Wages referendum. “I think that’s a livable wage, or it should be.”

Davidson works two jobs: at a sandwich shop on Munjoy Hill and for a limousine service. She makes about $10 an hour at the sandwich shop, and about $7.50 an hour, plus tips, driving a limo. She said an increase of even a couple of dollars an hour would make it significantly easier for her to make ends meet.

Tipping said it was encouraging that even after being outspent by opponents more than 100 to 1, the $15 minimum wage was supported by 42 percent of Portland voters. And, with next year being a presidential election year, turnout should be significantly higher, which he thinks will mean more supporters for the $12 measure.

Chris Hall, chief executive of the Portland Regional Chamber and head of the opposition to the $15 minimum wage, agreed that voters who backed the increase sent a message.

“There’s no doubt that income inequality is a major political issue in our society,” Hall said. “We may disagree about the number, but I don’t think we disagree about the issue.” Hall didn’t know if the chamber would oppose the proposal to increase the minimum wage to $12. He said Portland businesses, many of which argued that a $15 minimum wage would put them out of business or at least force layoffs, will have an opportunity to digest the impact of an increase when the City Council-approved minimum wage rises to $10.10 in January.

Under the Mainers for Fair Wages proposal, the $12 minimum wage would be phased in, starting at $9 an hour in 2017 and increasing $1 a year until it reaches $12 in 2020. After that, it would rise at the same rate as the cost of living. Businesses, Hall said, want to avoid a big jump right away, which they worry could be a shock to the economy.

But by 2020, he said, many Portland businesses might already be paying those wages, or at least be close. The city’s minimum wage will go to $10.68 an hour in January 2017 and then rise with the rate of inflation.

“Essentially, we’re already in that slot” for $12 an hour by 2020, Hall said, who noted that few businesses in the city pay the current state minimum of $7.50 an hour.

Many of the businesses that opposed $15 an hour supported the increase to $10.10, Hall said, and voters around the state will be able to see what impact that has in Portland by the time a vote on the $12 minimum rolls around.

Already, Hall said, businesses are saying they’re more concerned with finding qualified workers than the impending increase in the minimum wage come January.

Tom MacMillan, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor on the Portland Green Independent Party ticket, said his organization is not sure what role, if any, it may play in the $12 minimum wage vote.

The Greens spearheaded the signature-collection drive to get the $15 an hour referendum on the Portland ballot.

“The fight never ends and we know that even $12 an hour is not enough,” MacMillan said, but the party is unlikely to try for a statewide referendum for $15 an hour.

“There’s been no discussion of what the next step is,” he said, noting that the Greens are trying to build a party that wins elections for offices as well as one that gets referendum issues passed.

He said the party plans to meet in the next few weeks to discuss this year’s election and decide what to do next.

“We need to take a step back and figure out where we go from here, and living wages are just part of the platform,” he said.

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