Portland minimum wage argument continues to rage

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PORTLAND — The debate over pay will be waged again Monday, July 20, when the City Council will hold a public hearing on a “livable wage” ordinance.

The council will choose between enacting an ordinance creating a $15 per hour minimum wage, sending the ordinance to the polls in November, or placing a competing measure on the ballot.

The meeting and a workshop preceding it will re-examine the minimum wage ordinance councilors passed July 6 by a 6-3 vote.

Any one of the six councilors who voted in favor of increasing the citywide minimum wage to $10.10 per hour effective Jan. 1, 2016, could seek to reopen the question.

“Right now, we are hoping to plan a July 20 workshop with corporate and outside counsel present and discuss what council intends,” Mayor Michael Brennan said Tuesday.

Much of the continuing consternation involves wages for tipped workers.

State law allows a “tipped credit” of 50 percent for employees who earn at least $30 per month in tips. The city minimum wage ordinance increased the minimum wage for tipped workers to 50 percent of the new city wage, or $5.05 per hour, while Brennan said he had always wanted it to continue at 50 percent of the state’s $7.50-per-hour minimum wage, or $3.75.

“I think we can remedy the situation,” Brennan said.

Under the City Charter, reconsideration has to take place at the council meeting after an ordinance passes. Brennan said it’s likely any other action, aside from another workshop, will be postponed until September.

Councilor Jon Hinck, who helped amend the ordinance to reflect Brennan’s desire to set the minimum wage at $10.10 per hour, with an increase to $10.68 per hour set for Jan. 1, 2017, agreed the minimum tipped wage should remain at 50 percent of the state wage.

“Setting aside a drafting problem, I think the City Council got it right in its vote last week,” Hinck said Tuesday.

Creating a city minimum wage was first discussed in a subcommittee established by Brennan in March 2014, and his ordinance draft was forwarded to the City Council Finance Committee in December 2014.

Hinck said it was important to remember the overall effect of the ordinance.

“This is a step forward the city has taken when no other municipality on this side of the country has taken this action,” he said.

Tipped wages have been the primary concern of city restaurant owners, with Steve DiMillo, of DiMillo’s on the Water, among the most vocal about keeping the state wage as the base pay.

Greg Dugal, president and CEO of the Maine Restaurant Association, has opposed any minimum wage increase because he believes it is a state or federal issue, and has also said the ordinance texts he saw were not clear enough about the tipped wage amount.

In May, the committee amended the ordinance to increase minimum wages to $8.75 on Jan. 1, 2016, and another 50 cents per hour on Jan. 1, 2018, and again on Jan. 1, 2020.

Brennan, Hinck and Councilor Justin Costa then amended the Finance Committee draft to require the increases to $10.10 and $10.68, and to use the cost of living urban index for future annual increases. The ordinance was opposed by Councilors Ed Suslovic, Nick Mavodones Jr. and David Brenerman.

Suslovic, who is also opposing Brennan in the November mayoral election, said Monday he would like the minimum and living wages to be on the ballot together, with a third option not to create any mandated wage.

“I think it would be fair to let the voters have their say on what we ought to do,” he said.

The liveable wage ordinance petition was drafted and circulated by the Green Independent Party, including District 2 City Council candidate Mako Bates.

If passed, it would mandate the $15 per hour wage for companies with 500 or more employees by Jan. 1, 2017, and all other companies by Jan. 1, 2019.

The ordinance, unlike the city minimum wage ordinance, would not cover municipal employees. Passage would also ensure the ordinance could not be amended for five years.

Portland Green Independent Party leader Tom MacMillan participated in the subcommittee Brennan formed to create a minimum wage, but said the so-called living wage is needed because of the increasing cost of living in the city.

If passed, the living wage ordinance would also increase the base for tipped wage workers from $3.75 to $11.25 per hour.

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.