AUGUSTA – Advocates for raising Maine’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020 say their opponents are distorting research data in an attempt to mislead lawmakers and the public in advance of a statewide ballot question in November.

The opponents — a coalition of Maine business organizations including the state’s restaurant association and the Maine Chamber of Commerce — have been asking the Legislature to put a competing question on the ballot that would raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2020 instead of $12.

Maine’s current minimum wage is $7.50 an hour, or .25 cents higher than the federal minimum. It was last increased in 2009.

On Monday, volunteer organizers with Mainers For Fair Wages said the organizations opposing the wage hike were inappropriately citing the work of a University of California professor, Michael Reich.

Reich said Monday he had asked both the Maine Chamber and the Maine Restaurant Association to retract information they’ve released in press releases and newsletters that suggest, based on Reich’s research, the state could only sustain a $10-an-hour wage hike.

Via a conference call, Reich said Monday that opponents to the $12-an-hour wage had applied his research to a current median wage in Maine that included both seasonal and part-time workers. He said his research was based on full-time, year-round wages.

Reich said if the groups pushing against the higher wage hike had accurately used his research, the right minimum wage for Maine would actually be closer to $13 an hour and not the $10 they are pushing for.

Melissa Stevens, a Lewiston resident and Mainers for Fair Wages campaign volunteer, said the “corporate lobbyists” pushing for the competing measure should admit their error and support her group’s effort for an increased wage.

Stevens is also one of at least two Lewiston Democrats who have said they are running for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, who is termed out this year under Maine’s election laws.

“Those lobbyists have made a very serious mistake,” Stevens said, “one they should — if they have any ethics or conscience at all — end their opposition to increasing Maine’s minimum wage.”

Stevens said the only study cited by those pushing for a $10-an-hour minimum wage to back up their claims is Reich’s. Stevens said the opposition is wrongly claiming the research of Reich, who works at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, supports their position, when it does not.

“Standing in this room, at this podium, they said over and over that this research is why they support $10 over $12,” Stevens said. ‘They said the same thing again and again and again and again in emails to the media and in releases to the media and in letters to their membership and in correspondence with legislators.” 

But Peter Gore, vice president of the Maine Chamber of Commerce, seemed to stand by his group’s claims and said excluding part-time and seasonal wage earners from the analysis on a minimum wage hike was equally misleading.

Gore said he would look into Reich’s request for a retraction, but was unequivocal about the need to include part-time and seasonal workers in the analysis of what should be the minimum wage for Maine.

“They want to cherry pick the numbers and they want to leave out all kinds of other workers, including, ironically enough, the type of worker that spoke last at their press conference, somebody who has three part-time jobs,” Gore said. “They don’t want to include her wages in the calculation of the medium wage. We think we have a more honest complete picture.”

Greg Dugal, a lobbyist who represents the Maine Restaurant Association, also said his group would look into the new information.

Gore said the Maine Department of Labor based the state’s medium wage, $16.29 an hour, on the wages of all workers, including seasonal and part-time.

“My industry is full of part-time workers,” Dugal said. He said hiking the minimum wage to $12 an hour would also substantially reduce teen employment, as many smaller businesses would no longer be able to afford part-time help or would only be willing to hire adults for entry-level jobs at that wage.

The backdrop for the debate is the possibility that some lawmakers or Republican Gov. Paul LePage will attempt to introduce a bill that would put a competing measure on the ballot in November.

For the Legislature to do that, the current ballot question would have to first be referred to the Legislature’s Labor Commerce and Economic Development Committee, which would take a majority vote in the Democratically controlled House. 

Most Legislative Democrats have suggested they would not support a competing ballot question.

House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, said those opposing the ballot question opposed all attempts by lawmakers to increase the minimum wage in 2015 – even a $10-an-hour minimum wage they now say they support.

“To see folks who opposed any compromise before now come forward and say they support a compromise is frustrating at best. It’s just disingenuous,” McCabe said. “Also, I think a lot of the data that’s been thrown around by folks that oppose the ballot measure is inaccurate.”

In addition, McCabe said, the most recent polling of Maine voters that he has seen shows overwhelming support, at about 62 percent in favor, of a minimum wage increase.

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.