Maine small business owners look to boost consumer spending and level the playing field with low-wage competitors.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu visited Fork & Spoon in downtown Bangor on Tuesday for a roundtable discussion with local business owners, community advocates and workers on the importance of raising the minimum wage, both nationally through congressional action and in Maine through the passage of Question 4 this November.
Business owners who spoke in favor of a minimum wage increase cited both the economic benefits of putting more money into the pockets of their customers and the moral considerations of low wages.
“No one can live on $300 per week and no one who works hard deserves to be paid so little,” said Tim Rich, owner of The Independent Cafe in Bar Harbor, who explained to Lu why he joined more than 500 other small business owners in publicly backing the referendum. “I want my employees to be able to support their families, so they need to be paid a fair wage. That’s why I support the referendum; it’s just the right thing to do.”
The initiative on the ballot in November as Question 4 seeks to raise Maine’s minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9 in 2017 and then by a dollar a year until it reaches $12 in 2020. After that, the wage would increase with the cost of living. The subminimum wage for workers who receive tips would also increase gradually from $3.75 an hour until it reaches the adjusted minimum wage.
A recent report from the National Employment Law Project found that Maine retail businesses already pay higher wages than their big-box competitors, almost $13 per hour on average, and so a low minimum wage tilts the playing field against them.
“Unfortunately, Congress has not acted,” said Lu. “Fortunately, states have acted. Since 2013, 18 states and the District of Columbia have raised their minimum wage. 51 cities and counties have also raised the minimum wage. We in the Obama administration are proud to support initiatives like what is happening here in Maine to give American workers the raise they deserve.”
This post originally appeared in the Maine Beacon.