Minimum wage to climb

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A two-step increase in the state’s minimum wage is expected to ripple through Maine’s labor pool, swelling the paychecks of many people who already exceed the bottom-rung figure of $6.50 per hour.

The Legislature gave final approval to the increase Tuesday. The vote guarantees two increases totaling 50 cents, upping the minimum to $7 an hour by October 2007.

“That means that someone at $9 will now go to $9.50 or $10,” said Carol Albert, a labor expert who manages the Manpower Inc. employment office in Auburn.

Albert said that while her clients “pay nothing close to minimum wage,” the higher rate will eventually lead to fatter paychecks for others.

“For us it’s not immediate,” Albert said, “but everything will follow suit eventually.”

She said the increase will affect the state’s hospitality and food services industries more than others.

Both offer among the lowest-paying jobs in the state.

“They’re already having a hard time finding people,” Albert noted of the two labor categories.

But the increase isn’t expected to affect the Hilton Garden Inn. General Manager C.J. Manchester said the inn already pays its workers more than the minimum.

“Our people,” he said, make the difference in a stay at the inn for its guests. The award-winning Hilton has had no problem in filling its openings, in part because it pays more than the law requires, he noted.

“That may not be the case with some other operations,” Manchester added.

But Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce President Chip Morrison said, “The reality is that nobody pays minimum wage anyway.”

He said a chamber survey found that “virtually no one” paid their employees the bottom wage.

Given that, “It will have little or no affect on us.”

However, Morrison also said the minimum wage is one of the factors that employers take into consideration when looking for sites to relocate.

“Their perception could be that Maine is anti-business. It’s another of those check marks that they add up to see where they might go,” he said.

Approval of the new minimum wage came on a 73-70 tally in the House of Representatives. The Senate followed with a 19-15 approval.

Democratic Gov. John Baldacci has supported the bill and a signing ceremony is expected.

The federal minimum wage is $5.15 an hour.

The measure approved Tuesday had been lobbied heavily and debated extensively, but final action came without additional comment by supporters or opponents.

The House had rejected amendments that sought to tie future increases to the consumer price index, while the Senate turned down an amendment to exempt youths from eligibility for an initial 90-day period of employment.

Last week, the House approved an amendment that would halve the proposed increase and delay it but that amendment was rejected by the Senate.

Maine’s new law will boost the minimum wage by 25 cents this October and by 25 cents more one year later.

Minimum wage-earners in Maine received their most recent increase last fall under a bill signed into law in 2004. That law raised the hourly minimum by 25 cents an hour to $6.50 an hour in two phases.

“The most important thing we can work towards is providing a greater standard of living for Maine people,” Maine House Democratic leader Glenn Cummings of Portland said in a statement Tuesday after the final House vote. “We need to take a close look at the Maine people who are working hard to get ahead, but whose wages are so low that they are unable to provide for themselves and their families, and give them the independence and the dignity of a decent wage.”

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