On Wednesday, August 20, Mayor Brennan and the Minimum Wage Advisory Group held a public forum on raising the minimum wage in Portland. The advisory group of business, labor, nonprofit, academic and community leaders was formed by the Mayor, and they have been meeting for months to hash out a plan to raise city-wide wages.
To be clear no formal proposal to raise the minimum wage has been made to the City Council. Mayor Brennan formed the advisory committee to discuss the issue, and so far the draft plan would raise the minimum wage in Portland in three tiers. At first the minimum wage would rise $2 per hour from $7.50 to $9.50. Next year it would rise to $10.10, the amount to which President Obama recently pegged the minimum wage for federal contractors. The following year it would rise to $10.68. Every year after it would rise in proportion with the cost-of-living.
Mayor Brennan hopes to bring a minimum wage proposal to City Council as early as September or October.
Over 80 members of the public representing a mix of Portland residents including business owners, activists, and minimum wage earners, gathered to voice their concerns and praise for raising the minimum wage. All agreed that the minimum wage needed a raise, but they agreed on little else.
Restaurant owners offered concerned that raising the tipped minimum wage could cost Portland’s hundreds of restaurants dearly, and lead to layoffs and cuts in benefits. Currently tipped employees can earn as little as half the minimum wage, $3.75/hr, as long as their tips add up to enough to take home the minimum wage at the end of the day.
Many in the crowd agreed that the Mayor’s plan does not go far enough. Members of the Fight for 15 coalition argued that $10 per hour is not sufficient, and that a living wage of $15/hr, like that recently enacted in Seattle, would be a better goal.
A living wage is calculated based on the cost of basic needs such as food, rent, utilities, health care, transportation and child care. In 2010, the Maine Department of Labor calculated that a living wage in the Portland metropolitan area for a single adult with one child is $21.40.
Still others argued that the Mayor’s plan did not contain sufficient enforcement mechanisms.
“There is not a strong enforcement plan,” said Drew Joy, chair of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, “and labor laws are only as strong as the rules made to enforce them.”