Portland city councilors on Monday evening delayed a vote on an emergency pandemic order, a move that triggered a new hazard pay ordinance that will raise the city’s minimum wage starting Jan. 1.
Six of the nine councilors voted to postpone action on repealing the city’s state of emergency that has been in effect for 21 months until Jan. 3, when they also plan to discuss an indoor mask mandate.
With the state of emergency still in place at the beginning of the year, minimum-wage workers who are full-time or part-time and are employed in for-profit and nonprofit organizations will get bumped up 1 1/2 times their current pay to $19.50 per hour. The ordinance applies to work done during a state, city or county emergency. At that level, it is higher than any municipal minimum wage in the country.
The ordinance was enacted in 2020 as part of a progressive slate of referendum questions in Maine’s largest city, but it has been subject to legal and political challenges. Maine’s high court upheld the ordinance in July, but said it would not take effect until January 2022.
The Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce opposed the move, saying the $19.50 will be “difficult, if not impossible, for many of our members in Portland to absorb.” The chamber said it hopes the emergency order will be resolved when the city council reconvenes on Jan. 3.
The chamber also urged the councilors to consider a mask mandate that is separate from the state of emergency.