$15 minimum wage? Rockland residents to decide at polls

Tue, 09/15/2020 - 6:30pm

    ROCKLAND — The November 3 election ballot for Rockland residents will include a question regarding a possible minimum wage increase for businesses with 25 or more employees. Pending voter approval, wages could eventually rise to a starting point of $15 per hour by January 2024. 

    The gradual increase of $1 per year ($13 by 2022, $14 by 2023) is designed to provide residents with a living wage as well as a boost over surrounding towns. However, retailers opposing the proposal are citing a pandemic-induced down economy, as well as socio-economic and motivation pitfalls related to increasing pay.

    “I feel as though putting this out to the general populace is the appropriate way to do something like this,” said Councilor Ben Dorr. “I would feel uncomfortable in just passing this as a councilor, but I think that if there was a moment to do this, especially since it goes into affect over the course of a number of years, I think that if we want the largest sample size to participate in this discussion about how much we think people’s time is worth, how much life can you get for one hour of your time, this is the best way to get that feedback.”

    During the September 14 Rockland City Council meeting, Councilors voted 3-2 (Glaser, Westkaemper) to add the referendum question to the ballot. In doing so, Council lifts the burden of taking a side on a question that has no clear answer.

    “I don’t personally feel as though I can tell my small business compatriots on Main Street that this is something that they need to do,” said Dorr. “But I would love nothing more then to see the people at Staples and Hannaford’s and Shaw’s and the businesses that have stayed open through all of this, that we have deemed essential – I want nothing more then to see those people make more.”

    Councilors Valli Geiger and Ed Glaser also admitted that they could argue both sides of the discussion. 

    “I agree whole-heartedly with the concept of a living wage,” said Glaser. “And certainly, I have no qualms about doing it on a local level. If the federal government or the state government were there for the workers, they would have done this a long time ago. The problem is, they’re not. This isn’t a race to the bottom where somebody says ‘Oh, that’s how much they pay in New Hampshire. That’s how much they pay in Texas. If we paid as little as they pay in some of the other states, we would have no employees whatsoever.”

    Glaser said that employers are already having a hard time finding enough employees, even in a pandemic. Yet last year, according to Glaser, when the economy was good, finding employees was even harder. 

    “If they [business owners] raise their wages, there’s a better chance that they’ll get employees, and they’ll get better employees,” he said. 

    Business expenses increase, according to Glaser. Food, heat, utilities. These costs continue to rise, and they are not something retailers can control. What they can control, said Glaser, is labor costs. 

    “And therefore, workers get fewer and fewer dollars to take home,” he said. 

    “I think this is a good idea and doing this on a local level sends a message to workers that this is the place that they want to come to work,” he said. “That if you come to Rockland you can afford to live here because you are going to get a living wage.”

    The problem for Glaser is the decrease of money flow due to the pandemic. Businesses aren’t earning the revenue. The debts and loans are much higher. Had this question come to light a year ago, Glaser said he’d have been more than happy to support it.  

    But then, Dorr again, “Paying people the minimum wage is basically telling them ‘if I could pay you less, I would.’ And that feels really gross.”

    Rockland business owner Lynn Taylor stated otherwise in a letter to Council. Her belief is that being paid less is an incentive to work harder and become more responsible. 

    “The idea of paying that kind of money to a person who does not show up to work; when they do they are late,” she wrote. “ Having the newest cell phone or buying the next pack of cigarettes is not a priority. This is not an entitlement. The solution is work two jobs to be proud of.”

    For the Retail Association of Maine, which includes Rockland retailers, the issue of paying the novices the same as the seasoned is questionable.

    Glaser proposed a reduced training wage – no less than the State minimum wage – for employees under the age of 18. That option was voted down. 

    “The lighter store traffic is helping keep the lights on and doors open for now, but businesses are on a wobbly tightrope,” wrote the Association. “We don’t know what the holiday shopping season will bring. We don’t know what 2021 will bring in terms of a safe vaccine or economic recovery. However, we do know that this proposal will be a devastating blow for many of Rockland’s small businesses.”


    September 14 amendment: #46 Question on Ballot - Local Minimum Wage Ordinance Councilor Davis, passed as amended: Vote: 3-2 (Glaser, Westkaemper). Amended to limit the local minimum wage to only those employers with 25 for more employees. Vote on amendment: 4-1 (Westkaemper).

    ORDER Placing Referendum Question on Ballot November 3, 2020 Municipal Election 


    THAT the City Clerk is authorized and directed to submit the following referendum question to the voters of the City of Rockland at the Regular Municipal Election schedule for November 3, 2020: 

    “Shall the Ordinance Entitled Local Minimum Wage Ordinance be adopted?” 

    If adopted, this Ordinance was set the Local Minimum Wage at $13.00 per hour beginning on January 1, 2022; increase the Local Minimum Wage to $14.00 per hour beginning on January 1, 2023; increase the Local Minimum Wage to $15.00 per hour beginning on January 1, 2024; and then increase the Local Minimum Wage annually based on the percentage increase to the cost of living. 

    Sponsor: Councilor Davis Originator: Councilor Davis 


    ORDINANCE AMENDMENT Local Minimum Wage Ordinance 



    Sec. 2-116 Local Minimum Wage 

    1. 1. Definitions

    Employer: Any individual, group of individuals, partnership, association, corporation, business trust, or any other entity or group of persons or entities who employs or exercises control over the wages, hours, or working conditions of any Employee and who has a place of business within the physical boundaries of the City of Rockland. "Employer" shall include but not be limited to the City of Rockland

    Employee: Any person who performs work for an Employer for monetary compensation within the municipal limits of the City of Rockland. Employee shall include persons who perform work for an employer on a full-time, part-time, seasonal or temporary basis. Employee shall not include any person who is exempted from the definition of Employee under 26 M.R.S. $663(3) of Chapter 7, Employment Practices. 

    Minimum wage: The minimum hourly rate of monetary compensation that an Employer shall legally pay an Employee for work within the physical boundaries of the City of Rockland

    State Minimum Wage: The minimum hourly wage established by 26 M.R.S. $664. 

    Service Employee: Any Employee engaged in an occupation in which they customarily and regularly receives more than $30.00 a month or more in tips

    Tip: A sum presented by a customer in recognition of services performed by one or more Service Employees, including a charge automatically included in the customer's bill. "Tip" does not include a service charge added to a customer's bill in a banquet or private club setting by agreement between the customer and the Employer

    1. 2. Minimum Wage: 

    Except as provided herein, Employers shall pay all Employees no less than the Minimum Wage established by this ordinance for each hour worked within the physical boundaries of the City of Rockland

    1. 3. Minimum Wage Rate
    2. a. Beginning on January 1, 2022, the regular Minimum Wage for all Employees, including, but not limited to, Service Employees, shall be set at $00 per hour
    3. b. Beginning on January 1, 2023, the regular Minimum Wage for all Employees, including, but not limited to, Service Employees, shall be raised to $14.00 per hour
    4. C. Beginning on January 1, 2024, the regular Minimum Wage for all Employees, including, but not limited to, Service Employees, shall be raised to $15.00 per hour
    5. d. On January 1, 2025 and each January 1st thereafter, the minimum hourly wage then in effect must be increased by the increase, if any, in the cost of living. The increase in the cost of living must be measured by the percentage increase, if any, as of August of the previous year over the level as of August of the year preceding that year in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, CPI-U, for the Northeast Region, or its successor index, as published by the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics or its successor agency, with the amount of the minimum wage increase rounded to the nearest multiple of 5¢. If the State Minimum Wage established by 26 M.R.S. $ 664 is increased in excess of the minimum wage in effect under this ordinance, the minimum wage under this ordinance is increased to the same amount, effective on the same date as the increase in the state minimum wage, and must be increased in accordance with this ordinance thereafter. 
    6. 4. Tip Credit
    7. a. An Employer may consider tips as part of the wages of a Service Employee toward satisfaction of the Minimum Wage established by this ordinance, in accordance with 26 M.R.S. 8664(2) and until such time as the tip credit is eliminated under state law. Such a tip credit shall be no greater than half the Minimum Wage rate established by this ordinance
    8. b. An Employer who elects to use the tip credit, until it is eliminated under state law, must inform the affected employee in advance and must be able to show that the employee receives at least the Minimum Wage established by this ordinance when direct wages and the tip credit are combined. Upon a satisfactory showing by the employee or the employee's representative that the actual tips received were less than the tip credit, the employer shall increase the direct wages by the difference
    9. The tips received by a Service Employee become the property of the employee and may not be shared with the employer. Tips that are automatically included in the customer's bill or that are charged to a credit card must be treated like tips given to the Service Employee. A tip that is charged to a credit card must be paid by the employer to the employee by the next regular payday and may not be held while the employer is awaiting reimbursement from a credit card company. 
    10. d. This section may not be construed to prohibit an employer from establishing a valid tip pooling arrangement among service employees that is consistent with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and regulations made pursuant to that Act
    11. e. The meaning of the language used in this section shall be interpreted consistently with the interpretation of the language of 26 M.R.S. $663 and 26 M.R.S. $664
    12. 5. Overtime: 

    The Minimum Wage set out in this ordinance is subject to the overtime compensation provisions in 26 M.R.S. $664(3)

    1. 6. Collective Bargaining Agreements

    Nothing in this ordinance shall be deemed to interfere with, impede, or in any way diminish the right of all Employees including, but not limited to, Service Employees to bargain collectively with their Employers in order to establish wages or other conditions of work in excess of the applicable minimum standards of this ordinance

    1. 7. Retaliation Prohibited: 

    It shall be unlawful for any Employer to discriminate in any manner or take any adverse action against any Employee including, but not limited to a Service Employee in retaliation for exercising any right under this ordinance. 

    1. 8. Notice: 

    Every employer shall post in a conspicuous place at any workplace or job site where any Employee works, a notice informing Employees of the City of Rockland's current Minimum Wage rates, as well as a copy of this ordinance. 

    1. 9. Enforcement and Violations
    2. a. Any Employee, including, but not limited to, a Service Employee, receiving less than the Minimum Wage he or she is required to receive under this ordinance may file a written complaint with the City Manager's office
    3. b. The City Manager or his or her designee must investigate and issue a response to the complaint within fifteen (15) work days following the receipt of a The City Manager's or their designee's response to the complaint shall be final
    4. c. If the City Manager or their designee finds that an Employer has violated this ordinance, they may require the payment of back wages to the affected Employee(s) and impose a fine of $100 per day for the duration of the violation. If the Employer refuses payment of back wages, the fine may be increased by the amount of back wages.