Portland Greens to start petition drive for minimum wage

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PORTLAND — A petition drive to create a $15 minimum wage in the city is expected to begin Friday, Portland Green Independent Party Chairman Tom MacMillan said Monday.

“We feel pretty confident it passes legal muster and we will have petitions Thursday,” MacMillan said.

The draft was submitted to City Clerk Kathleen Jones on March 26, and MacMillan said he hopes to have the question, which would also require a public hearing and City Council vote, on the Nov. 3 city ballot.

Organizers hope to get 3,000 signatures from registered city voters, and will begin the drive during the First Friday Art Walk. At least 1,500 signatures have to be certified by Jones.

The initiative would increase the city minimum wage to $15 by July 1, 2019. Private employers with at least 500 employees would have to pay $12 per hour beginning July 1, 2016, and $15 per hour by July 1, 2017.

Private employers with fewer than 500 employees would be required to pay $10 per hour by July 1, 2016; $12 by July 1, 2017; $13.50 by July 1, 2018; and $15 by July 1, 2019.

The current statewide minimum wage is $7.50 per hour.

The requirements are based on the number of employees in a company nationwide, so local franchise owners of nationwide chains may be required to reach $15 per hour in two years.

“Any national chain is going to be covered,” MacMillan said.

Employers could continue to pay a “tipped wage” to employees earning $30 or more in tips per month. Because the state tipped wage credit is 50 percent of the state minimum wage, employers could subtract a maximum of $3.75 per hour from the proposed city wages. With no change to state minimum wages, a tipped wage would increase to as much as $11.25 per hour.

The new wages would not apply to municipal employees, who are exempt under the City Charter’s rules governing citizen initiatives.

MacMillan said the ordinance was developed by about 100 people.

“The law that is going to be voted on in November has gone through an extensive democratic process, which doesn’t often happen,” he said. “Raising the wage faster for big businesses will inject a lot of money into the economy right away.”

There is already a bill before the City Council Finance Committee that would raise the citywide minimum wage to $9.50 per hour on Jan. 1, 2016; then to $10.10 on Jan. 1, 2017, and $10.68 per hour on Jan. 1, 2018.

That proposal, which also covers municipal employees, is awaiting a second public hearing.

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

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.