Minimum Wage Referendum Signature Collection Kicks Off in Portland

Local volunteers receive petitions to place increase on the ballot

As the sign on top of the Time and Temperature building flashes "Fair Wage," volunteers from Mainers for Fair Wages on Thursday kicked off Portland-area signature collection to place a minimum wage increase on the 2016 ballot. Volunteers gathered at Arabica Coffee on Commercial Street to receive petitions, learn about the referendum process and practice before setting out to collect signatures.

In April, the Maine People's Alliance (MPA) and Maine AFL-CIO submitted the paperwork to launch a citizens' initiative to raise Maine's minimum wage to $9 in 2017 and then by $1 a year until it reaches $12 by 2020. After that it would increase at the same rate as the cost of living. The initiative would also incrementally raise the tipped minimum wage until it matches the minimum wage for all other workers by 2024. On Tuesday the Secretary of State's office formally approved the petition language.

Volunteers at the kick off were greeted by Arabica owner Cathy Walsh, who spoke in support of the referendum.

"I opened the doors of my small business to this event because I support this referendum campaign wholeheartedly. It's the right thing for my community and for my business. The more that working Mainers earn, the more they can spend locally at my coffee shop and elsewhere. Everyone does better together."

Among the participants who spoke during the kick off was Tabatha Whalen, a mother of two and cashier at a local convenience store. Whalen offered her experiences struggling to raise a family while working low-paying jobs.

"I have spent all of my life working minimum wage jobs and struggling to keep a roof over my family's head. At one point I was working two minimum wage jobs while homeless, having to keep one uniform on underneath the other because I barely had any time between when one shift ended and another started. Even working two jobs it wasn't enough to afford an apartment," said Whalen."They say Maine is the way life should be, but I don't think that's true for a lot of families. But I know that we can change that and I'm really excited to be able to get my friends, family and coworkers to sign this petition to make sure all Mainers are paid a fair wage."

This event is the first in a series of regional grassroots kick off events that are slated to take place across the state in the month of June. In May, the campaign concluded its first month-long fundraising campaign, meeting its goal to raise $30,000 in grassroots contributions from over 800 small donors.

"It's great to have so many folks here today who are ready to raise Maine's minimum wage," said MPA greater Portland organizer Jennie Pirkl. "We know that it's going to take the support of our members from every corner the state to collect the thousands of signatures necessary to put this on the ballot in 2016. At a time when so many families are struggling to make ends meet, we can't afford to wait any longer."