Voters in Maine City to Decide on Minimum Wage Increase, Hazard Pay

Question A in Portland would also contain a provision for state of emergencies that essentially require hazard pay

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If voters in Portland, Maine, approve a ballot question on raising the city's minimum wage, it could be increased to $15 an hour by 2024.

The plan, which is being supported by an activist group called People First Portland, would also contain a provision for state of emergencies that essentially require hazard pay for anyone who has to work in a geographic area of Portland that is under that type of order from the city or state government.

That would include the emergency orders from Maine's governor issued during the COVID-19 pandemic, which means the minimum wage for frontline workers in the city could go up to $18 within weeks and $22.50 by 2024.

According to activist Jake Karaisz, the issue is about one simple question, "how much is a life worth?"

In a Thursday interview with NECN and NBC10 Boston, Karaisz said the federal government had not acted effectively on the minimum wage issues and it was therefore incumbent upon people at the local level to move on the issue instead.

"The help is not coming from the top down," Karaisz said.

The effort is opposed by Portland's Mayor, most of its city councilors, the regional chamber of commerce and a number of city business owners.

In videos posted to the website We Can't Do $22, some business owners explain the consequences of the question becoming a mandate would force them to shut down.

"It would make my decision very easy, we would have to close immediately, there's no questions asked, there's absolutely no way we could afford to pay someone, anyone $22.50," said Michelle Corry, co-owner of Portland's Petite Jacqueline.

In a press release, Portland Mayor Kate Snyder said:

"Minimum wage is an important issue to continually address. However, a Portland-only mandated jump to $15/per hour and the requirement to pay time and a half (up to $22.50) during any declared emergency would likely have devastating impacts on both small businesses and employees in Portland."

Another press release from the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce claims the overtime pay by 2024 would be well over $22.50:

"State of emergency overtime pay would be $33.75. If an employee can't work the declared emergency, an employer calling in another employee to work overtime would pay a rate of $33.75 an hour."

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Asked about the immediate added cost to businesses, Karaisz said, "the only time an employee in the city would be getting $22.50 is if they're working during a declared state of emergency in 2024 or afterwards."

He added," to be clear we're asking for a lot, we're asking for $18.00 but to put that in context workers are being forced to work in an objectively dangerous situation."

When asked about a restaurant feeling like it may have to close because it could not afford to pay tipped or untipped staff the amounts outlined in the Question A proposal, Karaisz said, "I think if a restaurant has to close because of this, I would ask why we are having employees work in such a dangerous situation outright and if this is the deciding factor, then I have much bigger questions and concerns on their practices on worker safety."

What happens to Question A in Portland will become clearer once vote results begin coming in on Nov. 3.

Of four people NECN and NBC10 Boston spoke to about the issue in line waiting to vote at Portland City Hall on Thursday, all four said they supported Question A being approved.

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