I am the general manager of Northern Girl. We process vegetables in the Aroostook County town of Van Buren. I care about raising the minimum wage in Maine.
Northern Girl purchases crops from family farms in northern Maine. Our tagline is “Bounty from the County.” We pay our farmers a fair price, trying to fully reflect all of the costs of the products and services they provide.
It can feel like an uphill battle. Much of our food system is dominated by multinational factory farms and massive agri-businesses that do not pay their workers fair wages. Whether one is in the field harvesting, on the factory floor processing or in the restaurant serving, our workers deserve the respect of a decent wage.
Northern Girl employs 20 hardworking and low-wage staff during our processing season. In the same way we pay a fair price to our farmers, we need to pay our employees a wage that fully reflects their costs of living and of raising a family.
With the severe scarcity of jobs in Aroostook County, we can employ willing and able kitchen staff for the current, very low minimum-wage of $7.50 an hour.
But on $7.50 an hour, a single mom cannot support her family, and she cannot afford child care. A dad cannot afford a car to get to work. In the height of Northern Girl’s season, when we’re working to process 8,000 pounds of vegetables in a weekend, these realities hurt business.
So we have found what most small-business owners already know: for business success, one must pay workers above the minimum wage.
Beyond any sort of economic calculation, I want my employees to be able to succeed. I live in the same community. They’re my friends and neighbors. I want them to thrive, and we are working hard to pay them accordingly. A minimum wage increase would make it easier for me to invest in my workers.
I support the campaign to put a minimum wage increase on the 2016 statewide ballot. The plan would raise the wage to $9 per hour in 2017 and $1 per year after that, up to $12 per hour in 2020. Subsequently, the wage would increase with inflation. Our plan would also slowly phase out the even lower minimum wage for tipped workers by 2024. Signature collection to put this referendum to the voters has already begun. I hope Maine voters will join us.
Chris Hallweaver is the general manager of Northern Girl, LLC, in Van Buren.