April 09, 2020
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We know business, and we know a higher minimum wage would help us

A woman exits a McDonald's restaurant while members of 'MoveOn' shout slogans against the company in front of the restaurant in Times Square, New York, in this December 2013 file photo.

We know payroll. We know wages. We own and operate two of the most recognizable companies in Maine, and we know better than anyone what it’s like to make the decisions necessary to keep our businesses afloat. We also know how many Mainers are struggling to make ends meet and how much a few dollars per hour raise can mean to a single mother trying to provide for her family.

As you can imagine, then, we were very surprised to see a column in this newspaper claiming that we didn’t actually understand Maine’s economy and that our support for increasing the minimum wage was “little more than a PR stunt.”

In fact, the column itself was a stunt.

The op-ed was written by a “researcher” at the Employment Policies Institute. According to an investigation by the New York Times, the institute is actually the creation of Berman and Company, a PR firm in Washington, D.C. It has no actual employees and conducts no independent research. Instead, it serves as a front group and an attack dog for lobbyist Rick Berman’s corporate clients, including fast food giants and others opposed to raising the minimum wage

“Berman says it’s all about ‘shooting the messenger.'” That’s an actual quote from CBS 60 Minutes’ expose on the lobbyist and his unethical practices titled “Meet Dr. Evil.”

Shooting the messenger is exactly what Berman and his out-of-state corporate backers are attempting to do here. After our companies and more than 150 others declared publicly that we support raising the minimum wage, his firm is going into panic mode to try to discredit us and the other members of the Maine Small Business Coalition.

It’s not going to work.

We represent family businesses rooted in Maine. Together we employ hundreds of our fellow Mainers. We support raising Maine’s minimum wage to $9 per hour in 2017 and then incrementally to $12 per hour by 2020 (and raising the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers to the same level by 2024) in part because it’s a great way to boost our economy. Every study of minimum wage increases has shown that when you put more money into the pockets of people making low wages, they spend it locally, creating an economic swell that raises all boats.

Our businesses will feel the effects of an increase in the minimum wage; we expect them to grow. Working Mainers will be better able to afford our shoes and our cars. We’ll do better, they’ll do better and Maine will do better.

It also will help small businesses compete with large, out-of-state companies that make a profit by paying poverty wages — the same corporations that are funding Berman’s attacks.

Henry Ford learned this lesson well. No one would consider him a great humanitarian, but he understood the economic benefit of paying employees a fair wage. When Ford doubled his employees’ wages, turnover dropped dramatically and his business thrived. He helped build a middle class among his employees who, coincidentally, could now afford to buy one of his cars. The money came right back to his business.

But that’s not the only reason we support increasing the minimum wage. It also is simply the right thing to do. It’s nearly impossible to survive, much less build a future for your family, making an hourly wage at or just above $7.50 per hour. More than a hundred thousand low-wage workers, mostly women, are working long hours at hard jobs. They deserve a raise.

Next year, when you’re making your mind up about whether to vote to give Mainers a raise, listen to the people who know Maine best: workers, business owners and families from Maine. Not D.C. lobbyists and front groups funded by out-of-state corporations.

Adam Lee is chairman of Lee Auto Malls. Jim Wellehan is president of Lamey-Wellehan.


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