Election results halt minimum wage initiatives in two Maine cities

by Connor Beatty

On November 3, voters in Portland and Bangor rejected attempts to raise the minimum wage in those cities.

In Portland, voters rejected a proposal that would have increased the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. The ordinance would have required all businesses and franchises employing 500 or more employees to raise wages to $15 per hour by 2017, with all other businesses following suit by 2019.

Many Portland businesses are breathing a sigh of relief because the ordinance did not pass. The final vote was 58 percent against and 42 percent for the minimum wage hike.

The initiative was primarily opposed by the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, which argued that the increase was “too much, too soon.” The organization argued that a dramatic increase in the minimum wage would force employers to cut back on hiring. The precise economic impact of the proposal was difficult to forecast because other cities around the country that have raised their minimum wage to $15 are much larger than Portland or have raised their rates too recently to measure the impact.

In January 2016, Portland’s minimum wage is set to rise to $10.10, which is $2.60 more than the current state minimum wage.

Meanwhile, a similar result transpired in Bangor. Although a minimum wage increase was not directly decided on election day, the results of the city council election “likely mean the death” of a minimum wage increase initiative, according to the Bangor Daily News.

The Bangor ordinance would raise the city’s minimum wage to $8.25 by January 1, 2016, with future increases to follow. The ordinance is supported by three sitting city council members and opposed by three members. Of the three new members elected, only one has publicly supported a minimum wage increase. One candidate who strongly supported the increase narrowly missed being elected, finishing in fourth place.

The backdrop of the election results is a proposed increase in the state minimum wage to $12 per hour. The proposal continues to garner discussion and may be on the ballot next year. Some voters support an increase in theory but do not want their municipality to go it alone because an increase would arguably put local businesses at a disadvantage. In fact, Bangor is considering a “compromise” proposal that would increase the city’s minimum wage only if a statewide hike does not occur.

Local minimum wage increases are challenging for employers with multiple locations in the same state. In an extreme example, a shopping mall in California crossed city lines, and a business owner with pretzel stands on both ends of the mall had to pay two different rates. (For more information, see “Portland enters the minimum wage ‘arms race’” in the November 2014 issue of Maine Employment Law Letter.) While that example is unusual, it highlights the necessity of keeping track of different municipalities’ minimum wage laws unless the state or federal minimum wage increases and puts everyone on the same playing field.

Connor Beatty  is a contributor to Maine Employment Law Letter and an attorney with Brann & Isaacson. He can be reached at cbeatty@brannlaw.com.

About Maine Employment Law Letter:
Excerpted from Maine Employment Law Letter and written by attorneys at the law firm of Brann & Isaacson. MAINE EMPLOYMENT LAW LETTER should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general information purposes only. Anyone needing specific legal advice should consult an attorney. Contact the attorneys at Brann & Isaacson
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