BANGOR, Maine — The City Council’s Business and Economic Development Committee failed Tuesday to move forward a proposed compromise on a local minimum-wage increase.
The committee was expected to discuss possible amendments to Councilor Joe Baldacci’s proposed ordinance, which would increase the local minimum wage from $7.50 per hour to $8.25 per hour on Jan. 1, 2016, and eventually increase pay for the city’s lowest-paid workers to $9.75 per hour in 2018.
After that, the local minimum wage would fluctuate with the consumer price index, a measure of inflation.
Instead of discussing that ordinance, which failed to win majority support before the full council in July, the committee discussed a compromise proposal authored by Councilor Josh Plourde, who opposed Baldacci’s original proposal.
The compromise consisted of a multipart plan that included a council resolve expressing support for the Maine People’s Alliance petition for a citizen-initiated referendum on the November 2016 ballot that would increase the minimum wage statewide.
The committee moved that part of the compromise forward in a 3-2 vote with councilors Baldacci, Plourde and Nelson Durgin voting in the affirmative and councilors Gibran Graham and David Nealley opposing. That issue will go to the full council on Monday.
The committee was not able to move forward a second part of the compromise proposal, an ordinance that would ensure the minimum wage in Bangor increases even if the MPA’s statewide initiative fails.
That ordinance would provide the same hourly wage hikes proposed by the MPA, hiking rates for the lowest-paid workers to $9 per hour in January 2017 and $1 each year until the minimum wage reaches $12 per hour in 2020.
After that, the minimum wage would fluctuate with inflation.
If the compromise ordinance had succeeded, it would have put off implementation until voters considered the MPA proposal but would also provide for higher wages than Baldacci’s proposal in the event the MPA referendum fails.
Plourde described the proposal as a “fail safe” that would be activated at the local level in the event the federal government, state government and voters fail to approve a minimum-wage increase.
“I’m inclined to believe that the statewide initiative will be extremely successful … therefore eliminating any discrepancy municipality by municipality,” he said. “But essentially you’ve got three strikes and then the municipality needs to act, and that’s what this plan speaks to.”
While Plourde and Baldacci both argued for the compromise and Councilor Ben Sprague, who is not a member of the committee, urged referral to full council, the compromise did not win over Graham, who supported Baldacci’s original proposal.
“I believe in supporting the petition effort,” he said. “However, the best support that we can do for the petition effort is to raise (the) minimum wage in Bangor now and show the rest of the state that it can be done and it can be done successfully.”
Nealley continued to voice opposition to any minimum wage increase not conducted on the state or federal level. Durgin, who was standing in for Councilor Sean Faircloth, did not voice a position on the compromise but has said previously he did not plan to support Baldacci’s original proposal.
Apparently lacking majority support on the committee to move the ordinance to the full council for a first reading, Baldacci instead asked Durgin to schedule a work session for the full council to discuss both the compromise ordinance and his original ordinance, which is still due for a vote after the November election cycle.
Baldacci said he would prefer to enact a local wage hike sooner, but he considered Plourde’s proposal a good-faith effort at compromise.
“I will vote for a minimum wage increase as early as possible and if there are four other councilors who will join me in doing that, then I will be very happy,” he said. “Until that point reaches us, I want to guarantee that wages in Bangor will go up.”
The compromise ordinance differs from Baldacci’s proposal in key ways. It does not exempt tipped workers, workers under the age of 18 or businesses with five or fewer workers.
If enacted locally, without the statewide referendum passing, the compromise ordinance would provide higher pay for tipped workers than the statewide ordinance.
That’s because employers of tipped workers are only allowed to credit half of the statewide minimum wage, $3.75 per hour, to tips.
If the statewide referendum passes, the statewide minimum wage would increase as would the amount that can be credited to tips.
If the ordinance is only enacted locally, only the $3.75 may be credited to tips. The MPA proposal would increase the minimum wage for tipped workers to $5 per hour in 2017 and by $1 per hour each year until it reaches $12 per hour no later than 2024.
If enacted only at the local level, that would give tipped employees a base pay of $8.25, versus $6 per hour if enacted at the statewide level.
Follow Evan Belanger on Twitter at @evanbelanger.