At a gathering in front of St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland, leaders representing ten different faith traditions urged support for a ‘Yes’ vote on Question 4 on the November ballot, the referendum to raise Maine’s minimum wage.
“Our call as Christians is to love and support our most vulnerable neighbors, and the current economic landscape - where wages have stagnated since the early 1970s - requires us to speak out on their behalf,” said Bishop Stephen Lane of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine. “This measured, incremental approach to achieving a moral economy will help our fellow citizens across the state. An economy where all work is justly valued benefits all Mainers.”
If passed, Question 4 will raise the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9 in 2017 and then by a dollar each year to $12 in 2020. After that it will increase annually with the cost of living. The subminimum wage for service workers who receive tips will also gradually increase from $3.75 an hour to the adjusted minimum wage.
The initiative is endorsed by the Maine Council of Churches, which represents the Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Quaker, Roman Catholic, Swedenborgian, Unitarian Universalist, and United Church of Christ denominations, and also by individual congregations and faith leaders across the state.
“This year’s minimum wage referendum addresses the woeful inadequacy of the current minimum wage,” said Father Michael Seavey of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. “These are not simply jobs for young people to have some extra spending money. They are not infrequently critical means of family survival.”
Local low-wage workers also spoke at the event, and explained how difficult it can be to make ends meet on poverty wages.
“Not long ago I was homeless and working two minimum-wage jobs while living in a shelter. I had to wear a one uniform under another and run from one job to the next, because I had no time between when one shift ended and the other began,” said Tabatha Whalen, a mother who works in food service in Westbrook for $9 an hour. “It shouldn’t be impossible for so many Maine mothers to save up enough money to pay first and last month’s rent and a security deposit and get an apartment. It shouldn’t be so difficult to feed your kids.”
According to an analysis by the Maine Center for Economic Policy, the referendum would increase wages for the parents of 63,000 children in Maine.
“This is an economic issue and a common-sense issue, but more than that, it’s a moral issue,” said Heather McIntosh, a restaurant server from Portland. “That’s why so many people of faith are standing together here today. Question 4 is about caring for one another. It’s about coming together and creating a stronger economy that works for everyone.”