Volunteers collect at art walk and minimum wage forum
On Friday, volunteers with Mainers for Fair Wages kicked off Lewiston-area signature collection to place a minimum wage increase on the ballot in 2016. Twenty volunteers gathered at Kimball Street Studios on Lisbon Street to learn about the signature-collection process and receive petitions in order to begin collecting signatures during the Lewiston-Auburn Art Walk and the minimum wage forum and spaghetti supper at the Lewiston Elks Lodge later in the day.
In April, the Maine People's Alliance and Maine AFL-CIO submitted paperwork to launch a citizens' initiative to raise Maine's minimum wage to $9 in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that it would increase at the same rate as the cost of living. The initiative would also incrementally raise the tipped minimum wage until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024. The Secretary of State's office formally approved the petition language in early June.
Kimball Street Studios, a community art gallery and custom framing service that pays it's employees a livable wage, hosted the event in support of the campaign. During the training, volunteers heard from low-wage workers and small business owners about the importance of raising the minimum wage.
"I work full time and still struggle to make ends meet. Families like mine work hard and deserve to be paid a fair wage. That means more than our current minimum wage of just $300 per week. No family can live on that," said Katie McDaniel, a mother and convenience store worker from Auburn. "I'm really excited to be a part of this campaign to make sure that all families have a chance to succeed."
"The folks who would benefit the most from raising the minimum wage are also the people who are more likely to spend that extra money in their communities, at local businesses," said Bettyann Sheats, a small business owner from Auburn. "The fact is that many small businesses in Maine already pay their employees more than the minimum wage. Doing right by your employees is good for business and it's just fundamentally the right thing to do."
This event is one of a series of regional grassroots kick off events taking place across the state in the month of June. Volunteers have already begun collecting signatures in the greater-Portland area as well in towns across the midcoast.
A bill to pass a modest increase in the minimum wage failed in the legislature last week following disagreement between the House and Senate. Senate Republicans, although open to a small increase in the minimum wage, insisted on poison-pill provisions such as rolling back Maine’s child labor laws.
"The fact that Republicans signed on to a minimum wage increase, despite their past opposition, is a sure sign that our referendum campaign has already had an impact on the debate in Augusta," said Androscoggin Valley volunteer chair Jim Lysen. "Poll after poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Mainers support raising the minimum wage. At a time when so many families are struggling to make ends meet, we can't afford to wait any longer. I'm ready to raise the wage and I know we will do it with the support of all the folks in the room today."