Representatives from small business, professional theater and the hospitality industry held a press conference this morning in Portland to voice opposition to referendum Question A on the municipal ballot that would hike the city minimum wage to $15 an hour over 3 years.
Of particular concern to the “We Can’t Do 22” campaign is a provision that would require employees be paid one and a half times the minimum wage for work performed during a city or state emergency, such as the COVID-19 emergency.
Speakers say such increases would exacerbate job loses fueled by the pandemic.
“At this time we’re losing money every month trying to survive, and asking us to increase labor costs by what ends up being almost 35 percent in a year when sales are down 37 percent,” says Scott Rousseau, owner-operator of Play It Again Sports, “it’s simple math. It doesn’t add up.”
At the current Maine minimum wage of $12 an hour, many workers would be paid $18 an hour during an emergency. That would jump to $22.50 on Jan. 1, 2024.
“These are unsustainable wages,” says Quincy Hentzel, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. “This proposal would make tough times even tougher for our small businesses who are being ravaged right now by the pandemic.”
In response, a representative from referendum sponsor People First Portland says if workers are being asked to put their lives on the line during the pandemic, they deserve a living wage.
"If it's important enough that they need to be open during an emergency then it's important enough that they need to be compensating the people who are risking their lives to come work in an emergency at a rate that reflects that," says Bre Kidman, a volunteer with People First Portland.