On Nov. 8, we are voting to raise Maine’s minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020 — Question 4 on the ballot. We are especially passionate about the provision of the law that would incrementally raise the lower minimum wage for tipped workers, such as restaurant servers, from the current $3.75 per hour to $5 in 2017 and then by a dollar each year until it reaches $12 by 2024.
In seven states, the restaurant industry is treated like every other, and the restaurant owner pays all of her employees at least the standard minimum wage, regardless of tips. In Maine, on the other hand, servers and bartenders make virtually nothing from their employer and depend almost entirely on tips to make ends meet. Other rural states, such as Montana and Alaska, have done this successfully, and we believe this will work in Maine as well. We know this will work because we already are doing it at our businesses in Washington County.
At Lubec Brewing Co. Brewery and Tap Room and the Sunrise Cafe, both in Lubec, we pay our servers and kitchen staff a base wage of at least $10 per hour, with tips on top of that. We just cannot stomach the idea of making our living off the hard work of our employees if they are not able to make a living themselves. People who work hard should be paid a wage on which they can afford their basic living expenses.
At minimum wage, a working mother takes home less than $300 per week. Rent without utilities in Lubec costs up to $600 per month. That leaves less than $600 for heating, electricity, transportation, insurance, food, medicine, clothing, saving for retirement and every other necessity. It simply can’t be done.
The unpredictability of pay, especially in a seasonal economy like ours, can produce tremendous anxiety for wait staff. On a busy summer night, a server can do very well. On the other hand, if the weather is bad or the winter limits the number of customers, servers can barely cover the cost of gas to and from their shift, especially when they often are sent home early if it is slow. Although the pay and hours vary from day to day and week to week, the bills that a server supporting her family on tips has to pay each month stay the same.
Maine women bear the greatest share of the burden of this unfair pay system. Nearly 80 percent of servers in Maine are women, and one in three are supporting families. Women face sexual harassment at levels five times higher in the restaurant industry than any other, according to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If we can make the restaurant industry like all others, where employers — not customers — pay the wages of working Mainers, we can start to change the power dynamic that makes it easy for customers to harass waitresses.
In a 2014 letter to President Barack Obama on increasing the federal minimum wage, more than 600 economists from across the nation, including seven Nobel laureates, made this observation:
“[T]he weight of evidence now show[s] that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market. … Research suggests that a minimum-wage increase could have a small stimulative effect on the economy as low-wage workers spend their additional earnings, raising demand and job growth, and providing some help on the jobs front.”
Contrary to opponents criticism, an increased minimum wage can actually help a local economy rather than hurt it. All restaurant owners could move toward this system of fair wages for all of their employees. Putting that kind of money into the pockets of working Mainers can provide a boost to our economies and communities and benefit small businesses like ours. That’s why 600 small businesses and more than 60 restaurants across the state have already endorsed the initiative.
This referendum isn’t just about servers, though. Nearly 181,000 working Mainers will get a raise if Question 4 passes. That includes one in three working seniors, who are struggling to get by and can’t afford to retire. It also includes the parents of 63,000 children, far too many of whom are unable to pay for basic necessities on the current minimum wage.
By gradually raising their pay, we will make it easier for tens of thousands of Maine families to make ends meet.
Gale White and McGinley Jones own the Lubec Brewing Co. Brewery and Tap Room and the Sunrise Cafe and Bakery in Lubec.