The Portland City Council will consider whether to bring back emergency hazard pay for workers while the city’s mask mandate remains in effect.

“It’s not a perfect solution. It’s not a permanent solution,” said Councilor Victoria Pelletier, who is sponsoring a hazard pay amendment to the mask ordinance. “But it’s at least something so that we can have hazard pay for individuals we expect to show up to work while we work on raising the minimum wage.”

She expects her proposal to be presented to the council Monday and to be the subject of a workshop Feb. 14 before it is voted on Feb. 28.

Pelletier was the only councilor who voted Jan. 3 against lifting the state of emergency in Portland that had allowed a new hazard pay ordinance to kick in. The ordinance, approved by voters in a 2020 referendum vote, requires Portland employers to pay staff who come to work at least 50 percent more than the minimum wage during any declared state or city emergency.

Pelletier said she didn’t think enough time was devoted to discussing hazard pay at the Jan. 3 meeting and she believes it should come back to the council.

“I’m not sure how it will be voted on,” Pelletier said. “But if we have a mask mandate we need to be talking about hazard pay and if we’re asking individuals to show up and overexpose themselves to the pandemic, we need to make sure we’re providing them that level of pay and investing in them.”


On Tuesday, she joined hazard pay supporters for a rally at City Hall.

“We have to prioritize the health and safety of workers over profits,” said Matt Beck, a member of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, which organized the rally. “Many of the dangerous decisions are made … under frameworks that deny the truth that we have enough resources to take care of each other without leaving anyone out. Supporting workers doesn’t have to mean throwing businesses under the bus.”

Victoria Pelletier, the only Portland city councilor who voted to maintain the city’s emergency order so that workers would continue to get hazard pay, speaks at Tuesday’s rally at Portland City Hall. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Beck said hazard pay doesn’t just help individual workers, it also advances equity and helps stem the spread of COVID-19.

“For teachers, nurses and line cooks, hazard pay enables the worker to stay home and get well when they’re sick,” Beck said. “When workers fear being fired or evicted if they miss a shift, they’re left with no choice but to come to work when they’re sick with COVID-19.”

Jake Gamache, who stocks shelves at Hannaford for $15 an hour, was one of about 40 people who attended the rally. He called on the council to support essential workers.

“The pandemic is raging,” said Gamache, 23. “Every week we have a COVID scare. Someone has to call out and get tested, which means calling me and asking me if I’ve been in contact with them and then I have to get tested. The whole thing is just a nightmare.”


Hannaford was one of the Portland businesses that implemented hazard pay in Nov. 2020 – before a legal challenge delayed the date it took effect to Jan. 1, 2022. Gamache said his pay temporarily increased to $18 per hour for about six months.

“It was really nice to be secure in my rent, especially at a time when I got vaccinated, but it was still up in the air about how effective vaccines are,” he said. “I was like, ‘At least I’m financially secure if I do get sick.’ Being more financially secure was nice.”

Jake Gamache, who works for Hannaford in Portland, attended the rally at City Hall on Tuesday to advocate for hazard pay for essential workers. “The pandemic is raging,” he said. “Every week we have a COVID scare.” Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The hazard pay ordinance went into effect Jan. 1 but expired Jan. 13 after the council voted to end the city’s state of emergency. Councilors at the Jan. 3 meeting said they sympathized with workers but were also moved by feedback from business owners who said paying it would be a challenge.

Councilors also said the emergency order enacted in August, was never intended to last so long and that its primary purpose had been to allow for remote council meetings. The council now has a separate policy that allows remote meetings to continue.

At its next meeting Monday, the council will consider whether to extend the mask mandate for another month – to March 7. It will also consider a companion order that would have councilors vote on whether to extend the mandate during the first meeting of every month instead of every 30 days. The mandate went into effect on Jan. 5, but will remain in place over the weekend even though Monday’s vote will take place after more than 30 days, said Jessica Grondin, a city spokesperson. She said the mandate can only be lifted through a council vote.

Pelletier said her mask mandate amendment would mirror the provisions of the current hazard pay ordinance and would be revisited regularly by the council.


“It would just be an amendment to the mask mandate to include a hazard wage so as long as a mask mandate is enacted, the hazard wage would be enacted,” she said.

Portland has implemented various forms of hazard pay for city employees during the pandemic using state and federal funds, including a temporary pay increase a year ago for workers at the Barron Center nursing home during a COVID-19 outbreak.

But the city did not offer extra pay from Jan. 1-13 for its employees who earn less than $19.50 per hour because city code bars citizens’ initiatives from affecting the wages of city employees. Any council action to initiate hazard pay outside the hazard pay ordinance, however, would apply to city workers, Grondin said. She said the city is preparing a fiscal impact statement for the council workshop.

Councilor Tae Chong, who was among the majority voting Jan. 3 to remove the state of emergency, said Tuesday he supports increases to the minimum wage but is concerned about the impact hazard pay would have on nonprofits, social service agencies that rely on state reimbursements, and small businesses.

“Hazard pay is going to benefit large businesses because they know they can pay more and eliminate some of the competition,” Chong said. “I get the intent … but the world doesn’t work that way to me. It’s very short-sighted and it’s going to hurt the most vulnerable among us in social services and the business world.”

The Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, while still awaiting the full details of the hazard pay proposal, will not support it being passed as an ordinance, said President and Chief Executive Officer Quincy Hentzel on Tuesday. She said in an email that while the chamber supports a gradual increase to a $15 minimum wage in 2024, a hazard pay wage of $19.50 an hour would present enormous challenges to small businesses, nonprofits, childcare providers and social service agencies.

“The Council voted to lift the state of emergency in January on an 8-1 vote, thereby ending hazard pay,” Hentzel said. “Any attempt to reverse this action will bring uncertainty among our members and would be a failure of leadership from the Council who owe it to their constituents to remain consistent and clear in their policymaking.”

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