AUBURN — President Barack Obama’s call in Tuesday’s State of the Union address for employers to pay workers a minimum of $10.10 per hour got a mixed reaction in Maine on Wednesday.

Obama did not say he would propose legislation to boost the federal minimum wage. He did that last year and it was not acted upon by Congress. He’s hoping to bring change through example, passing a regulation that workers on federal contracts earn at least $10.10 an hour, hoping businesses will follow his lead.

Jim Wellehan of Auburn, who owns Lamey Wellehan shoe stores and is an activist for fair wages, said he agreed with the president. Paying workers a fair wage is important for a good business and a healthy economy, he said.

“It’s only fair,” said Wellehan, who belongs to a national business group that favors a higher minimum wage. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour; in Maine, it’s $7.50 an hour.

“When you don’t pay people well, a lot of things happen,” Wellehan said. They can’t afford to live well or have time with family because they’re working multiple jobs. “They can’t afford to pay taxes and support the school system.”

Wellehan’s company employs about 100 workers who all make more than $10 an hour. The company is profitable, he said, and he has many workers who have been there 30 or more years.

But Maine State Chamber of Commerce President Dana Connors said the chamber isn’t buying into Obama’s call. Before they could endorse that idea, the impact in Maine would have to be analyzed, Connors said.

“Maine is a very small-business state,” he said. “Many of our companies struggle.”

Maine employers value workers, Connors said, but it’s a question of whether they can afford to pay workers $10.10. “And what would that do to the bottom line, the implication on the rest of the employees?” he said.

If wages were to go up, “it’s better to have it go up at the federal level, rather than state by state,” Connors said.

At the Lewiston CareerCenter, job-seeker Thomas Bell said he didn’t think raising wages to $10.10 an hour would help workers in the long run.

“It may sound good,” Bell said, but employers would hire fewer people. A minimum wage of $10 an hour could mean “three people would do what six people did. It’s not going to work.”

Job-seeker Rick Trudelle agreed, saying Obama’s push for higher wages isn’t necessary. “The market will take care of itself.”

Casey Ryerson, also looking for work, said he would like to see workers get paid more. “The minimum wage should get boosted up,” he said. “Everything else is going up, but there are probably drawbacks to it, too.”

Maine Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, in a prepared statement applauded Obama’s call “to give American a raise. … If the price of bread and milk increases, so should your paycheck. Yet the minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation. It’s time to fix that.”

Several looking for work Wednesday said the job market includes many “junk jobs” offering only the minimum wage.

“I just came from an interview, building maintenance,” Ryerson said. “They had 30-something people apply.” He said he was a finalist. “I’m hoping to see a job.”

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