Portland voters may be asked to again approve an increase to the city’s minimum wage this fall, either through a proposal by the City Council or a citizen effort to raise it to $18 per hour by 2025.

The council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee on Tuesday discussed bringing a referendum question on increasing the minimum wage to voters in November, though the committee has yet to come up with a specific recommendation.

“Whether or not we hit the deadline to get this on the ballot or not, I do still think it’s a really important conversation that we should be having and this is an opportunity for the public to engage,” said Councilor Andrew Zarro during the committee’s meeting Tuesday night.

The Maine Democratic Socialists of America for a Livable Portland has filed with the city to get a referendum question on raising the wage on the November ballot.

The group wants to increase the minimum wage to $18 per hour by 2025 and must gather 1,500 signatures in support by Friday to make the ballot.

“We are fighting for $18 because it’s clear that $15 is no longer adequate, and $18 is within the range of a living wage while being manageable for employers,” said Wes Pelletier, chair of the Maine DSA Portland Campaign Committee, in a statement Tuesday.


The city’s minimum wage is currently $13 per hour – slightly more than the state minimum of $12.75 per hour – and is scheduled to increase to $15 per hour by 2024. That increase was the result of a 2020 effort by DSA’s People First Portland campaign to put a wage increase to voters, 60 percent of whom approved it.

Council committee members have been discussing a potential wage increase over the last few months. In March, acting Corporation Counsel Jen Thompson told the committee the council could not repeal or amend an ordinance enacted by citizen initiative for five years. But the council could submit a proposed amendment to voters.

The full council would need to conduct a first read of a proposed amendment next month and the second reading would have to be in August for it to make the November ballot, which the city needs to order by Sept. 1, according to an April memo from interim Director of Housing and Economic Development Mary Davis to the committee.

Davis again told the committee Tuesday that she isn’t sure there is enough time to get a proposal on the November ballot, but that the effort is still relevant. “I think the work you’re doing is probably really informing what may already be headed for the ballot in November,” she said.

Councilors also heard Wednesday from an analyst at the Maine Center for Economic Policy and the director of advocacy at the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce about potential impacts of a wage increase.

James Myall, policy analyst for the center, said most research shows there are minimal or no negative affects on employment if the minimum wage is kept at 60 percent or less of the median hourly wage for full-time, year-round wage earners. Myall estimated that the current median wage for full-time workers in Portland is just under $28 per hour, which means the city could support a minimum wage of $16.70 per hour.


He also told the committee that increasing the minimum wage tends to benefit a wide swath of workers, especially those who are younger or near retirement age, who may be more inclined to have lower-wage jobs. He said women and people of color, who are disproportionately represented in lower-wage jobs, also tend to benefit from minimum wage increases.

Eamonn Dundon, director of advocacy for the chamber, told the committee that as a municipality with its own minimum wage, Portland is an outlier compared to other cities, and cautioned about increased costs that may be passed on to consumers as well as disparate impacts on businesses of different sizes and types.

A social worker earning $19 per hour, for example, may be motivated to leave her job to work in a less-stressful sector of the economy if the minimum wage increases and she can earn the same amount doing something else, Dundon said.

“This has been a big topic of concern among our members when we talk about these wage issues in health care and social services,” Dundon said. “They’ve noted that these increases in wages would have a huge impact on their ability to deliver services in Portland.”

The DSA’s proposal would eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers and establish a city-run Department of Fair Labor Practices to enforce laws, ordinances and regulations related to labor practices.

The group has also proposed three other referendum questions to increase protections for renters, reduce the number of short-term rentals in Portland and put restrictions on cruise ships coming into the city, according to an online publication published by a working group of Maine DSA.

The chamber expressed opposition to the referendums in an email to members earlier this month, in which President and CEO Quincy Hentzel said that raising the minimum wage and eliminating the tip credit would mean “raising costs during a time of inflation and harming hospitality workers’ ability to earn tips.”

Pelletier, meanwhile, said Tuesday that the group is looking forward to the council committee’s deliberations. “We’re looking forward to the committee’s deliberations and hope they see our upcoming referendum – which would raise the wage to $18 an hour and eliminate the sub-minimum wage – as an important opportunity to make Portland more livable for the workers that make it run,” he said.

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