BANGOR, Maine — Voting 6-1 on Monday, the City Council approved a resolution expressing support for an ongoing petition drive aimed at increasing the state’s minimum wage for the first time since 2009.
The Maine People’s Alliance, a left-leaning advocacy group, is gathering signatures to force a citizen-initiated referendum on the November 2016 ballot after failing for years to push the item through in Augusta.
“We’re not doing that because we have a deep love of direct democracy that overwhelms all else. We’re doing that because it is our only option at this point,” Mike Tipping, communications director for the MPA, told the City Council in July.
With councilors Joe Baldacci and Patricia Blanchette absent from Monday’s meeting, Councilor Gibran Graham cast the only dissenting vote, arguing that the council’s time would be better spent supporting that actual ballot initiative and not just the petition effort.
He also said that passing a local minimum wage immediately would do more to support the MPA’s statewide effort.
“I think no other support could be given that would be of greater consequence than showing that the minimum wage can be raised and needs to be raised earlier,” Graham said.
That sentiment was echoed by Tipping, who said in a statement last week that the resolution was a strong sign of support for the statewide campaign but went on to say the statewide efforts should not preclude Bangor from passing its own minimum wage.
“The existing proposal to increase the minimum wage in Bangor starting in January 2016 should be strengthened and passed,” he said. “The City Council owes it to the thousands of Bangor residents working hard for long hours and struggling to scrape by on poverty wages.”
Meanwhile, Councilor David Nealley, who voted in favor of the resolution Monday, expressed trepidation due to its relation to a proposed compromise that would implement a local minimum wage hike in the event the MPA referendum fails.
“This is really going back to a fundamental premise that I disagree with and that’s that … wage and labor issues are city-by-city issues, when we all know it’s a state issue,” he said.
The MPA resolution, proposed by Councilor Josh Plourde, came to light last week when Plourde proposed it as part of a compromise to settle Baldacci’s proposed local minimum wage hike.
The compromise consisted of a multipart plan that included a council resolve expressing support for the MPA petition and a council order that would implement the MPA-proposed wage hikes in Bangor even if the referendum fails on a statewide level.
That would ensure some wage changes in Bangor by January of 2017 as opposed to Baldacci’s original proposal, which called for a wage hike a full year earlier.
The MPA petition proposes a minimum wage of $9 per hour in January 2017 and an annual increase of $1 per hour until the minimum wage reaches $12 per hour in 2020. After that, the minimum wage would fluctuate with inflation.
Both Baldacci’s original proposal and the proposed local ordinance that mirrors the MPA plan are due to be discussed during a City Council work session, which has not been scheduled yet.
Baldacci said Monday that discussions are ongoing and he still thinks a wage hike for Bangor’s lowest paid workers is possible.
Plourde, who drafted the compromise, said the Monday’s resolution supports the petition effort only because the item is not on the ballot yet and that further endorsements are possible.
“We can’t really endorse a ballot issue that’s not on the ballot yet,” he said.
Follow Evan Belanger on Twitter at @evanbelanger.