BANGOR, Maine — A rolling billboard calling for lawmakers to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 made a stop in Bangor on Monday morning, with U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud calling on his House colleagues to back the “common sense” hike.
The partisan group Americans United for Change has launched a bus-based, multi-state campaign in support of The Fair Minimum Wage Act. The bus was scheduled to stop in Portland at 3 p.m.
“After the recession, the economy is starting to pick up. Businesses are doing better. The stock market is doing better, but wages for 30 years, overall for most workers, have been flat,” said Brad Woodhouse, president of Americans United for Change.
Supporters of the increase say a minimum wage earner makes just over $15,000 per year, leaving them in poverty and holding back the national economy, and the increase from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour would give people a liveable wage and allow them to pump more money into the economy.
Studies indicate that raising the minimum wage would cut the use of food stamps by $4.4 billion across the U.S., according to proponents.
“There’s no way that a working family can keep up” under the current minimum wage, Michaud said. “Mainers work hard and play by the rules. They should be able to make ends meet.”
Critics of the proposed increase say it would lead to higher unemployment, arguing businesses wouldn’t be able to hire new workers and might have to get rid of current ones in order to pay the wage. It would also mean higher prices for consumers.
Brent Littlefield, a Republican strategist, said the bus campaign tour was nothing more than a “partisan political stunt” headed by Woodhouse, a former spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. More recently, Woodhouse coordinated communications for the Democratic National Committee.
Littlefield also said the event served as a stump speech opportunity for Michaud as a gubernatorial candidate.
Greg Dugal, president of the Maine Restaurant Association, said Monday that his organization is strongly opposed to the national increase from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour.
“We’re talking a 40 percent increase,” he said, adding that it would be “more than most restaurants in Maine or anywhere else could handle.”
The legislation also would increase the federal required minimum wage for tipped employees from $2.13 — $3.75 in Maine — to 70 percent of the proposed minimum wage, or $7.07 per hour.
That would drastically increase costs for restaurants and other businesses, costing them from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on their size, Dugal said.
He said that could lead to increased prices for customers, but is more likely to result in companies shrinking the size of their staff. It might prompt more restaurants to switch to technology, allowing patrons to order on devices like iPads at their tables and cutting down on the need for wait staff.
“It will make for a lot of difficult decisions,” Dugal said.
Sean Garceau, manager at Miguel’s Mexican Restaurant in Bangor, joined proponents of the wage increase for a news conference outside the bus downtown.
He said his restaurant increased its minimum wage to $10.10 early this year after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.
“Our doors are still open,” he said. “We feel it’s up to small businesses like us to not wait and to act now.”
Opposition among Republicans and some Democrats in the Senate prompted some lawmakers to seek a compromise. Among them is Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who has been meeting with Senate Democrats to come up with a proposal that she hopes will garner support from both sides of the aisle, according to Businessweek. U.S. Sen. also has said he would be open to a compromise.
Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley said the senator is “talking with colleagues on both sides of the aisle about a possible alternative that could raise the wage by a reasonable amount and avoid the loss of the 500,000 jobs that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates could result from raising the minimum wage too quickly and by too large an amount.”
Woodhouse called on Collins to support the $10.10 minimum wage, saying, “Why mess with a proposal that gets the job done?”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has delayed the legislation while talks continue but has said he won’t support increasing the minimum wage to anything less than $10.10.