Radio Address: Sen. Bellows says minimum wage raise is good news for New Year

Posted: December 30, 2016 | Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development, Senator Bellows, Weekly Radio Address

Happy New Year! 2017 brings some good news for working families: On January 7, the new minimum wage law, passed by Maine voters in November, will take effect – raising incomes for tens of thousands of Maine families.

Hi, this is Senator Shenna Bellows, from Manchester. Thank you for tuning in.

Starting January 7, Maine’s minimum wage will increase from the current level of $7.50 per hour to $9. Any employer with workers making less than $9 per hour today must give those workers a raise. No exceptions.

Maine voters in my senate district and statewide approved the new minimum wage law by a significant margin.  The new law got more votes than either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.  The new law does three things:  First, it raises the minimum hourly wage of $7.50 to $9 in 2017, with annual $1 increases up to $12 in 2020.  Second, it phases out the subminimum wage for tipped employees, guaranteeing they will earn the same living wage as anyone else. Finally, it guarantees the minimum wage will increase as necessary, automatically, if the cost of living goes up.

The ballot question was clear — and popular. Everyone knows someone making minimum wage, and it turns out that it’s not just high school kids. This fall as I spoke with thousands of constituents in my district, I noticed a disturbing trend. I met dozens of seniors who said they couldn’t afford their property tax bills. Many were retired but had taken part-time jobs to help pay the bills. One woman was a restaurant server. Another worked at a big box store. A few others worked in groceries or convenience stores.

None of these seniors had the same life story. They were all different. But every one of them said they struggled to get by. They were worried about keeping their homes and paying the bills.

Those seniors will get a much-deserved raise next week. So will working parents, like the single mom I met in West Gardiner who works every shift she can get at a convenience store to support her disabled daughter and other parents I met working two or three jobs just to make ends meet.

People who work full-time should be able to pay their bills and provide for their families, and the new minimum wage will help them do just that. An estimated 103,000 Mainers will see their paychecks grow in January. By 2020, when the wage hits $12, that number will grow to 181,000 Mainers. That’s a huge victory for workers and for Maine’s economy.

Unfortunately, some elected officials, including Governor LePage, are willing to override the will of the people and gut the new minimum wage law. I and other elected officials are being lobbied hard to roll back the new law before it even begins.

I think it’s important to give the new law a chance. I’m honored to have been appointed to the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, which is responsible for wage laws and economic growth in our state. I’m willing to listen to everyone’s perspective, but voters matter far more to me than lobbyists. Almost half a million Mainers, including many of those working moms and working seniors, voted for this. We owe it to them to represent their will and their interests first.

Mainers who work hard to provide for their families deserve a living wage. This law will ensure they receive one.

This is Senator Shenna Bellows. Thank you for listening, and Happy New Year.