Sixty local business owners have signed a letter in opposition to Question A on the Portland ballot, which would increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour in the coming years and require businesses to pay time and a half during a declared emergency.

The emergency wage provision contained in Question A would increase the city’s minimum wage to $18 an hour in December, assuming the city and statewide emergencies declarations in response to the coronavirus pandemic are still in effect.

That wage, which would kick-in during any declared city or state emergency, would stress local businesses that are already struggling, forcing owners to cut back hours or close altogether, they said in a letter released Tuesday.

“Our businesses are already teetering on the edge of the economic cliff because of the pandemic,” the group wrote. “Question A will push us over that economic cliff and take our employees with us.”

The referendum is one of five placed on the Nov. 3 ballot by People First Portland, a political action committee formed by the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America and its allies to lead the campaign.

Em Burnett, a volunteer with the People First Portland campaign, responded to the opposition from business owners by sharing an online petition that had been signed by 91 people in the last 24 hours in support of Question A. They included quotes from some of the supporters, including out-of-town residents who work in Portland.

“It wasn’t until I made over $15/hr that Portland felt livable and accessible to me,” Portland resident Catherine Buxton wrote. “Now, I am able to not only support myself, but to better support my community, especially in this time. I cannot imagine how working families can afford to do the same with less, especially when they are risking their lives to work the front line.”

People First Portland did not directly respond to the concerns business owners expressed Tuesday about the emergency pay.

The group opposed to the referendum includes progressive business owners like Mary Allen Lindemann, of Coffee By Design, who support gradually increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, but do not support the emergency wage provision, which would give Portland the highest minimum wage in the country come December.

In a written statement, Lindemann outlined the ways she’s supported her employees during the coronavirus pandemic: continuing to pay health insurance premiums for 90 days for furloughed workers and continuing those payments for 30 days for laid off workers, who also received additional assistance and 401(k) match.

For her remaining workers, Lindemann said she has continued to pay all health premiums, as well as increased wages, and committed to a certain number of hours, even though sales are slow.

“Jumping to $18 minimum wage in December and $27 for overtime will change everything, not for the better,” she said. “The reality is small businesses will have to cut back hours for workers. Many will close their doors for good. The numbers simply don’t work. Question A will only make tough times tougher for Portland small businesses and employees.”

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder and every city councilor except Pious Ali announced their opposition to Questions A-E, which were placed on the ballot by People First Portland.

Seven states have enacted laws to increase their minimum wages to $15 an hour by 2025, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Currently, 31 cities or counties, nearly all of which are in California, have minimum wages of $15 an hour or higher, though some have exceptions for small businesses, according to the National Employment Law Project.

If Question A is approved, Portland would likely be the only city in the U.S. that mandates an emergency wage, according to NELP.

An estimated 23,500 Portland workers would see a pay increase under the ordinance, including 14,000 workers currently making less than $15 an hour plus another 9,000 who make more than $15 an hour but who would also receive increases, according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy, a left-leaning think tank. Fifty-six percent of those workers are women and more than a third are people of color.


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