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Portland Voters OK'd Hazard Pay Ordinance, But It's Unclear When It Goes Into Effect

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
A worker at a gift shop regulated the number of customers allowed in the store due to the coronavirus pandemic, Thursday, July 30, 2020, in Portland, Maine.

Portland businesses say it’s not clear whether a voter-approved minimum wage ordinance will require them to offer minimum “hazard pay” of $18 an hour for in-person workers starting next month.

The City Council says that provision, which was included in a package of progressive measures city voters approved last week, should not become effective until 2022. But the Greater Portland Chamber of Commerce says workers may have cause for legal action if employers do not offer that pay-minimum during a declared public emergency, such as the pandemic.

“This is the perfect example of why you do not pass massive policy initiatives by a referendum,” says Chamber president Quincy Hentzel.

Hentzel says many businesses already hurt by the pandemic could face the prospect of reducing services, raising prices or laying off workers. But Leo Hilton, a volunteer with People First Portland, which pushed the wage hike, says city government should be able to help solve such problems.

“I think that it’s well within the effective power of businesses here and the city council to find the resources needed to make sure those people aren’t laid off,” Hilton says.

Monday the City Council will consider several other parts of the new, voter-mandated ordinances.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.