Maine’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage is taking aim at labor unions and the wording of a statewide ballot question seeking to raise the minimum wage.

Voters will decide the issue in November.

LePage, in his weekly radio address released Wednesday, said efforts to raise the minimum wage to $12 hour were misguided and would result in job losses and fewer opportunities for young workers to gain experience.

“Over time, labor activists have confused the minimum wage with a living wage so they could boost union contracts,” LePage said. “That’s because well-paid union workers get another increase when the minimum wage goes up.”

LePage said the ballot question, which calls the incremental wage hike a “cost of living increase” is misleading.

“A teenager living with their parents does not need a cost of living increase,” LePage said. “They need more job options and more flexible hours – but the Legislature has repeatedly blocked these efforts during my administration. We should be making it easier for employers to hire low-skill workers, not harder.”


But Mike Tipping, a spokesman for the campaign to raise the minimum wage and an activist with the Maine Peoples Alliance, said Wednesday LePage was “again confused” about what the ballot question would do and wouldn’t do. Tipping also said LePage was telling “outright lies” about the ballot measure and its intent.

Among other things, LePage’s claim that moving Maine to a $12 an hour minimum wage would give the state the highest minimum wage in the country is incorrect. Several other states, including California, Oregon and Washington, have approved measures that would increase their minimum wages to between $13 and $15 an hour.

Maine’s change would be put in place in steps, moving first to $9 an hour in 2017, with increases each year until 2020 when it is capped at $12. Tipping said the portion of the bill that calls for a cost-of-living increase to the minimum wage starts after 2020 and is pegged to the federal consumer price index, which is also often the trigger for increases in Social Security or federal retirement benefits.

“If the governor thinks $12 an hour is a living wage he doesn’t know what it costs to live in Maine,” Tipping said.

But LePage argues that an automatic increase means employers will not give their best workers raises.

“This proposal will take away the incentive for employers to pay higher wages for good workers. If the wage automatically goes up every year, there is no need to give raises above the minimum wage,” LePage said.


Tipping said LePage’s concern over the ballot question’s mention of cost-of-living should be taken up with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the state’s restaurant association, which pushed to include the language on the question. Tipping said the question as it will appear on the ballot in November is the longest ballot question in state history.

Last July the Portland City Council voted to approve a citywide minimum wage of $10.10 per hour and also pegged future increases to inflation.

Tipping also said that there is no proof of LePage’s claim that the price of goods and services will go up dramatically if the minimum wage is increased. Tipping said that has not occurred in other states where the minimum wage has been raised.

Maine’s current minimum wage is $7.50 an hour, which is 25 cents more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

In Maine about 159,000 workers are paid less than $12 an hour, Tipping said. “Many of them are also not who you would think and include EMTs, firefighters, education assistants, home health care aides for seniors and others,” Tipping said. “Many of them are single mothers trying to raise their families on poverty wages.”

Because the ballot question would also raise the minimum wage for tipped workers, who can be paid half the minimum wage currently, prices at bars and restaurants would also increase and jobs would be lost – or employers would simply eliminate tipping altogether, LePage said in his address. He said employers are hurt by the change because they would lose payroll tax credits.


“When an employer has to pay each worker the full minimum wage, labor costs rise sharply. To cover those costs, menu prices would increase by as much as 20 to 25 percent,” LePage said.

LePage’s wife, Ann LePage, recently made national news when she announced she was taking a job as a waitress at a Boothbay Harbor restaurant, to help augment the governor’s state salary of $70,000 a year – the lowest of any U.S. governor. Ann LePage told reporters she was saving her tips from the job in order to buy a new car. She and the governor own a home in Boothbay Harbor.

But Tipping countered that the governor’s arguments are not based in facts and in other states where tipped workers received increased minimum wages, tips were not eliminated and the price of goods and services were not increased.


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