Senate Democrats fight to give working poor a liveable wage
AUGUSTA—Today Senate Republicans voted against increasing the minimum wage by fifty cents over a two year period for the working people of Maine. A vigorous debate on the Senate floor ended with a vote of 22 – 12, largely along party lines.
In his floor speech, Senate Democratic Leader Barry Hobbins of Saco, compared this debate to the minimum wage debate that occurred when he was a freshman legislator in the early 1970s.
“This minimum wage increase still doesn’t even get us close to a livable wage like it did with the increase in 1973,” said Hobbins. “Back then the increase bought a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk. Supporting this increase is the responsible thing to do because it will mean more money in the pockets of working Mainers.”
Currently minimum wage earners make $7.50 per hour or about $15,600 per yer for full time, forty-hour per week employment. If LD 447 had passed the increase would have gone up twenty-five cents to $7.75 per hour in October 2011 and then another twenty-five cent increase to $8.00 per hour in October 2012. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census, 34% of Maine workers earn minimum wage.
Republicans argued that most minimum wage earners weren’t poor and that in fact the minimum wage usurped merit wages. They also argued that it was a cost burden on business.
“We need to remember who we are here to fight for,” said Senator Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick. “Minimum wage helps the people. If we are here to help Mainers come out of the recession then let’s do something about it. Let’s not forget who put us in the recession. It wasn’t the American people. It was the greed of business. When we created minimum wage after the last recession—the Great Depression—we created the working, middle class. If you create better working conditions, all of us will be better off, not just some of us.”
Trends show that the top three occupations experiencing job growth in the aftermath of the recession were low-wage jobs including, retail sales, cashiers, and food preparation workers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“Minimum wage will put food on the table,” said Senator Phil Bartlett of Gorham. “Social service programs are on the chopping block and if we really want to help people, then increasing the minimum wage is the first step. Then, we need retraining problems to further help Maine workers.”
During the public hearing in front of the Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development Committee, increasing the minimum wage received broad-based support from working Mainers to small business coalitions and the Catholic Diocese.