Living wage campaign kicks off in Portland

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PORTLAND — Mako Bates believes it is time to boost the wages of workers throughout the city, especially because the cost of living has soared.

George Lydick worries those increased wages, as much as $5 or $6 per hour more than he pays now, will come at a cost to his customers or his staff.

The sides were contrasted Monday morning outside Lydick’s McDonald’s restaurant at 332 St. John St., as Portlanders for a Living Wage launched its drive to pass Question 1, which would create a citywide minimum wage of $15 per hour by July 1, 2019.

Bates helped write the ordinance, which will be decided Election Day, Nov. 3. If passed, the ordinance will affect all city businesses, but not municipal employees, by boosting wages from the current state minimum of $7.50 per hour. Companies with at least 500 employees will meet the mandated minimum by July 1, 2017. Smaller companies will pay the minimum wage by July 1, 2019.

If passed, the living wage ordinance would also increase the wages for workers making at least $30 per month in tips to $11.25 per hour from the current $3.75 per hour. Employers would be allowed to deduct the current state tipped wage credit of 50 percent of the state minimum wage from the new city city living wage.

Lydick, and his wife, Edie, own two McDonald’s franchises; the other is on Route 1 in Falmouth. As franchise owners, they are part of the larger corporation, meaning the St. John Street restaurant would be considered part of a company with 500 employees.

“One thing we will have to change is the pricing structure,” Lydick said.

Bates was joined by three other speakers, including mayoral candidate Tom MacMillan, Harlan Baker of the University of Southern Maine and the Southern Maine Labor Council, and Cokie Giles, president of the Maine State Nurses Association.

Baker said he came to dispel myths about the effects of increased wages on the economy.

“It will not create unemployment, it will stimulate the economy and increase demand,” he said.

Lydick was not convinced, although he said he already pays staff as much as $10 per hour. He estimated about 30 percent of his staff qualifies as full time by the standards of the Affordable Care Act, meaning they work 30 hours per week or more.

“There would have to be decisions on how many employees we can maintain,” he said.

Bates and Baker said it is necessary to include franchise owners with those required to increase wages to $15 per hour first because of the corporate structure of the larger companies.

“The money is there, it is just how it is distributed,” Baker said.

If passed, the city would join Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco in enacting the $15 wage. The Portland City Council has already approved a minimum wage increase to $10.10 per hour effective Jan. 1, 2016, with the wage increasing to $10.68 on Jan. 1, 2017. Increases beyond that will be tied to the Consumer Price Index, and the new minimum wage will also include municipal workers.

As Portlanders for a Living Wage kicked off its campaign, Too Far, Too Fast, a group opposing the referendum, announced itself Monday as well. Chris Hall, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, cited increases to the minimum wage as a reason not to enact the higher wage.

“Pushing the market immediately to $15 minimum wage makes Portland an outlier, and threatens small businesses’ viability to pay their workers and nonprofits to fulfill their mission of helping the neediest of Portland,” Hall said.

The groups supporting and opposing the referendum had not filed with the City Clerk’s office to become political action groups as of Monday.

If passed, the living wage ordinance cannot be amended for five years by terms of the city charter, although Bates said he would like it to include municipal workers. The charter also prohibits citizen initiatives from including municipal workers.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

George Lydick, owner of the McDonald’s on St. John Street, said Monday the $15 “living” wage on the Nov. 3 ballot would affect his prices and possibly his staffing levels.

Mako Bates, center, kicks off the campaign to pass a $15 per hour “living” wage in Portland on Monday outside the McDonald’s at 332 St. John St. Bates helped write the ordinance on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.