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Question 4: A Closer Look at Maine’s Minimum Wage Referendum 

Tyler Williams has lived in Bangor all his life. Starting when he was 13, he’s worked several minimum wage jobs to help his family make ends meet.

“I worked in fast food for three years making $7.50 an hour. Growing up with my mom being a single mom, it’s been very rough because she became disabled,” said Williams.

Now, as an adult, that struggle continues for Williams, a certified nursing assistant, and boyfriend Relm Wells, who makes $10 an hour working at a call center. But in the proposed minimum wage hike on the ballot Tuesday, they see hope.

“I really support raising the minimum wage because so many families, like mine for example, can’t afford anything. You can’t afford rent, you can’t afford your bills,” said Williams.

If the referendum passes, the minimum wage would go up to $9 an hour starting the first of next year. It would then increase $1 each year until it reaches $12 in the year 2020. After that the minimum wage would automatically increase based on the rate of inflation. The measure would also eliminate the tip credit for workers like servers and bartenders by 2024.

Proponents like Jack McKay of the Eastern Maine Labor Council see a major positive impact on nearly 200-thousand Mainers.

“Almost 1 in 3 workers will benefit. That’s going to make a real difference for people–in the food they’re able to eat, the housing they’re able to have, the ability to pay their bills, their ability to have less stress and have a more decent life for themselves and their families, and that’s just an out and out good,” said McKay.

But some Maine small businesses, including a lot of restaurants like Governor’s in Old Town, say the minimum wage increase, at least as it’s written on the ballot, could do more harm than good.

“A lot of people don’t understand this is really on the ballot, if you can believe it. we need you to vote, and understand the consequences if this does pass for restauranteurs, and what that means for the the cost of a dinner, a breakfast, a drink,” said Randy Wadleigh, owner of Governor’s Restaurants.

Wadleigh points out that if the tip credit is eliminated, Governor’s would be required to pay their servers full minimum wage–not half, like it is now.

“The fear we have is our servers and our best servers particularly make more than our managers already. They don’t need a minimum wage increase. They make their money through gratuities because they work really hard for that. But to add that extra payroll cost to us is devastating to our guests,” said Wadleigh, who tells me he’d be forced to raise prices.

Wadleigh he doesn’t oppose a wage increase-he says back-of-the-house employees like cooks deserve it.

“We sort of tow the line of somewhere between 9 and 10 dollars over some time, which would be reasonable,” said Wadleigh. As for $12, “I absolutely think it’s too much.”

David Clough, Maine director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, says the minimum wage hike could result in the loss of thousands of jobs in our state–because of the increase costs passed on to businesses.

“There’s a difference between the minimum wage, the sticker wage that’s on the books, and the wage that employers pay to hire people. That wage is above the minimum wage quite often, and most usually, especially in a tight labor market that we have in some parts of the state,” said Wadleigh.

But for Williams and Wells, the choice is simple.

“That makes it so that we’re going to survive. We’re not just going to be thrown under the bus. We’re going to make it,” said Wells.