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Bangor’s gearing up for a minimum wage fight

11126737_875945975800157_8274512119067024601_nBaldacci said: “We’ve talked a lot about trying to keep young people and young families here, and part of that whole discussion is going to be wages,” he said, noting that the majority of students in the Bangor School District are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch, meaning their families meet federal poverty guidelines.

Excerpt from BDN article:Will Bangor’s minimum wage increase? Not without a fight.Read the full story HERE
By Evan Belanger, BDN Staff – July 11, 2015

In a 6-3 City Council vote this week, Portland became the first municipality in the state to increase its local minimum wage, surpassing the statewide minimum of $7.50 per hour.

But a similar proposal to increase wages for Bangor’s lowest paid workers still faces an uphill battle as the City Council prepares to introduce the ordinance during its meeting July 13 and hold a public hearing on the issue July 15.

“I don’t really suspect that it will move much beyond this public information session, frankly,” Councilor Josh Plourde said of the proposal this week, noting that the city’s economy differs markedly from Portland’s.

If approved, the ordinance proposed by Councilor Joe Baldacci would incrementally increase the local minimum wage to $8.25 per hour in 2016, $9 per hour in 2017 and $9.75 in 2018.

After that, the minimum wage would fluctuate with the Consumer Price Index, a measure of inflation. The proposal excludes tipped employees as well as workers under the age of 18.

The proposal was praised by some current and former minimum-wage earners this week who said it would help make ends meet as well as save for expenses such as college.

“I’m going to college and the expenses that come with college are … unreal. It all adds up so fast, and even an extra dollar would be helpful,” said Mackenzie Winchester, a lifeguard who earns $7.74 per hour at Pancoe Pool in Bangor.

But some small-business owners warned it could lead to job losses by increasing the cost of hiring new workers.

Baldacci needs to recruit at least two additional supporters on the nine-member council if his ordinance is to have any chance of passing.

Polled this week by the Bangor Daily News, supporters included only Councilors Patricia Blanchette, Sean Faircloth and Baldacci.

“If we wait for the state of Maine to raise the minimum wage, it’s not going to happen,” Blanchette said.

Maine has not raised its statewide minimum wage since 2009, though the Maine People’s Alliance, a liberal-leaning policy group, has launched a campaign for a citizen-initiated referendum that could raise it to $12 per hour by 2020.

Meanwhile, Councilors Nelson Durgin, Pauline Civiello and Plourde all said they oppose the proposal in its current form.

“I really think that something this important needs to be done at an administrative level that covers the whole state,” Durgin said. “I don’t think one community in the corner of the state or the middle of the state should be raising the minimum wage.”

Councilor David Nealley did not return requests for comment this week, but said in a February email to the BDN that the issue “belongs at the federal and state level of government” and that Baldacci is “playing into a very popular theme.”

That leaves only Councilors Ben Sprague and Gibran Graham in the undecided category. Unless an opponent changes sides, Baldacci must recruit both for his proposal to pass.

Graham and Sprague both said this week they were reserving judgment until they hear from councilors and constituents at upcoming meetings.

Sprague expressed reservations this week about handling minimum wage at the local level.

“It should be happening at the state and federal level,” he said.

Graham said he is a big proponent of making sure people are able to work for a livable wage, which he said does not appear to be the case for the state or the city overall. He also said, however, that he had not yet seen Baldacci’s proposed ordinance.

Meanwhile, Plourde, an opponent of the Baldacci proposal, said he might entertain a minimum wage increase on a regional level that involves surrounding towns and cities.

Plourde described Bangor as being part of a regional economic district that includes surrounding towns and cities, unlike Portland, which he said is really its own economic district.

Balacci admitted this week he faces an uphill battle getting his proposal through the council.

“I agreed from the beginning that it was an uphill battle, but I think it’s a battle worth fighting,” he said.

Baldacci said Portland’s vote — which will increase the minimum wage there to $10.10 per hour in 2016 and $10.68 per hour in 2016, then tie it to inflation — puts more pressure on Bangor to increase its own wages.

Without competitive wages, he said, young families will be drawn to places like Portland where wages are higher. He added that large retail chains in Bangor “can certainly afford a minimum wage increase.”

“We’ve talked a lot about trying to keep young people and young families here, and part of that whole discussion is going to be wages,” he said, noting that the majority of students in the Bangor School District are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch, meaning their families meet federal poverty guidelines.

According to school officials, 1,899 of the 3,744 students in the Bangor School District as of June qualified for free or reduced-cost lunch.

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