ELLSWORTH, Maine — Citing similar rallies around the world, about 18 Hancock County residents gathered Thursday outside a local restaurant to draw attention to efforts to raise the minimum wage.
The group Community Union of Ellsworth and Hancock County said Congress should raise the minimum wage so working families can have an easier time making ends meet.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, and in Maine, it is $7.50 per hour. Protestors outside the McDonald’s on High Street said Thursday that it should be twice that. There has been no increase in the federal minimum wage since 2009, they said.
“The Community Union became motivated to participate in this worldwide demand for $15 an hour (and the right to unionize without intimidation) when we learned of Sen. Susan Collins’ recent vote in the U.S. Senate to block a raise in the minimum wage,” John Curtis, a member of the group, said in a prepared statement. “There never have been cost-of-living adjustments in the minimum wage. In stark contrast, Collins and other senators will receive a $2,800 cost-of-living adjustment on Jan. 1, 2015.”
Curtis said that including Thursday’s rally, the group has protested outside the local McDonald’s three times since last August.
Another member of the group, Gouldsboro resident Ann Roberts, said many residents of eastern Maine live at or below poverty levels, and taxpayers end up footing the bill for their food stamps or health care.
“The inequality in this country has grown to such a huge discrepancy,” Roberts said. “It’s not something that we should just sit back and let happen.”
The group stood and held signs outside the McDonald’s for about an hour. Some passing motorists honked their horns to show support for the protesters.
According to media reports, other minimum wage rallies were held Thursday outside fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and KFC in New York, Seattle, Boston, Los Angeles, St. Louis and elsewhere. Members of the local group said that outside the U.S., similar protests were being held in Rome, Manila, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Beijing and London.
Collins did not comment Thursday about the protests. A Collins spokesman directed media inquiries to a statement the senator made when the minimum wage bill died in the Senate late last month.
At the time, Collins said she supported raising the minimum wage when it went up in 2009 and that this time around she sought to find a compromise that Democrats and Republicans could agree on. President Barack Obama, with support of Senate Democrats, supported raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, but Republicans opposed that amount, saying it could adversely affect the economy and lead to job losses.
“I continue to believe that there is support in the Senate for a reasonable alternative that would raise the minimum wage but avoid the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs that are critical to our state and our economy,” Collins said in the April 30 statement.
Thursday’s protest was the second event held in Ellsworth this week aimed at drawing attention to wages or working conditions supported by national food retailers.
Gerardo Reyes Chavez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers spoke Monday at the local Unitarian Universalist Church about how the group has gotten about a dozen retailers, including WalMart and Taco Bell, to sign on to the group’s Fair Food Program. The program requires willing retailers to pay a wage premium for farm workers in exchange for tomatoes they buy from participating farms and to hold those farms to certain labor standards.