Jake Gamache stood in front of Portland City Hall, in the rain, and invited any city councilor to visit him while he stocks shelves at the Forest Avenue Hannaford on Monday to see what it’s like working in a pandemic.

“I’ll be in the ice cream aisle, aisle 20, from 7:30 to 11,” Gamache said. “I would love to spend an hour with you.”

He and about 20 others rallied Sunday to urge the City Council to keep an emergency order in place that triggered Portland’s hazard pay ordinance Jan. 1. It raised Portland’s minimum wage for in-person work from $13 to $19.50 an hour. The temporary increase would be reversed if the council votes Monday to lift the city’s state of emergency.

The change has some employers worried they can’t afford the $6.50-an-hour increase. The Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce is opposed to the hazard pay, saying that while large businesses may be able to absorb the increase, many smaller businesses cannot. The chamber sent out a newsletter last week asking members to get in touch with city councilors.

Jake Gamache, an employee at Hannaford Supermarket, speaks at an emergency rally for hazard pay, organized by Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, at Portland’s city hall on Sunday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Gamache and others at the rally said the higher pay is needed as front-line and essential workers risk their health to keep grocery stores, day care centers, health facilities and other businesses open.

Gamache said the grocery store he works at is short on cashiers, and lines of customers get backed up to where he’s stocking shelves. Half of the shoppers aren’t wearing masks, he said. “That’s hazardous when you’re talking about a disease like COVID. It’s very easy to catch it,” he said. “I’m stuck in there with them for 30 to 40 minutes at a time.”


Gamache said he can’t afford to quarantine. “More than half my income goes to rent. I don’t know what I’d do if I got sick.”

A hazard pay boost would allow front-line workers like him to have some savings in case they need to be out of work to quarantine, he said. “The Portland City Council could help all the workers in this city be able to quarantine if they continued the state of emergency. If they don’t, then the workers are all screwed.”

A person holds a sign at an emergency rally for hazard pay, organized by Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, at Portland’s city hall on Sunday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Leo Hilton of the Maine Democratic Socialists of America opened the rally saying his group made progress last year when voters passed the hazard pay and other measures to support working-class Portlanders.

Workers risk their health in jobs that require them to be out there with the public, many who are not wearing masks, Hilton said.

“Working from home is not a privilege afforded to everyone, nor can it ever be,” he said. “Where would we be without front-line workers who keep our society running every day?”

Hilton said he works as an he apprentice electrician. “The only reason that I haven’t gotten COVID from my co-workers is because I work outside. I never thought I would be pleased I would be working outside in a Maine winter.”


Hazard pay is an enormous relief when a worker needs to be out of work with the virus or to care for a family member who is ill, Hilton said. Portland workers need the extra pay boost “to feel a little bit better for the risk” they take going to work. “We’re here to tell the City Council we need this emergency order, we need the mask mandate, a vaccine mandate. We need better pay leave so that people can feel safe.”

Former Portland mayor Ethan Strimling also spoke in favor of the hazard pay. “I implore the council, please, make clear our workers matter,” he said. “Until this COVID pandemic ends, we must compensate them fairly.” Other major cities, including New York and Boston, have emergency orders “because they understand there’s a pandemic going on,” Strimling said.

The chamber is advocating for a compromise of a mask mandate and/or vaccine mandate, the chamber newsletter read.

The City Council is meeting remotely. The agenda is at portlandmaine.gov/129/Agendas-Minutes.

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