In a rare setback for living wage activists, voters in Portland, Maine, shot down a $15 minimum wage proposal on Tuesday, voting against a ballot measure that would have doubled the wage floor in just four years.
Under the proposal, all employers with 500 or more workers would have had to pay at least $15 per hour by 2017, with smaller employers required to hit that mark by 2019. After that, the minimum wage would have been adjusted each year according to an inflation index.
The vote in the liberal city broke down 57 percent to 43 percent against the measure, according to preliminary returns on Tuesday night.
The minimum wage in Portland is currently $7.50 per hour, a level mandated by the state of Maine. In September, Portland's city council signed off on a $10.10 wage floor slated to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2016. That rate will be boosted to $10.68 in 2017, then bumped annually according to inflation.
But Portland activists insisted the wage floor be set higher. The group Portlanders for a Living Wage submitted a petition with thousands of signatures to get the $15 per hour measure on the ballot this week. If it hadn't failed on Tuesday, the measure would have trumped the law passed by the city council, making the raise more aggressive.
Opposition to the $15 per hour proposal came from a group called Too Far, Too Fast Portland. The group posted testimonials from local businesses saying they couldn't handle the wage hike.
"Portland’s overall minimum wage beginning January 1st will be higher [at $10.10] than places like Boston and New York City no matter what," the group said on its website. "In large metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, Seattle, and Washington, DC an increase to $15 may make sense, but Portland’s economy can’t support it. That’s why we’re asking voters to vote No on Question 1 – it goes too far, too fast."
The idea of a $15 per hour minimum wage may have seemed preposterous just a couple of years ago, but it is fast becoming a reality in progressive U.S. cities. The success is due in part to the Fight for $15 labor movement, which is funded by the Service Employees International Union. The campaign has been drawing attention to the plight of low-wage workers by staging periodic strikes by fast-food employees in cities around the country.
Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles have all approved gradual raises to $15 per hour, while regulators in New York approved a $15 minimum wage specifically for the state's fast-food workers. And although Congress hasn't raised the federal minimum wage since 2009, a majority of states now have a minimum wage higher than the federal level.