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Minimum wage law helps build Maine’s home care workforce

On April 5, we testified against the eight legislative  proposals seeking to repeal or roll back Maine’s minimum wage law approved by voters in the Nov. 8, 2016, Mainers for Fair Wages citizens’ initiative.

Senator Volk, Representative Fecteau and members of the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, my name is Rod Hiltz, Executive Director of the Maine State Employees Association, SEIU Local 1989. We are a labor union representing 13,000 workers and retired workers statewide, including hundreds of direct care workers earning less than $12 an hour. We urge you to oppose LDs 673, 702, 774, 775, 778, 831, 971 and 1005.

Until Maine’s voter-approved minimum wage law took effect earlier this year, the last time Maine’s minimum wage went up was in October of 2009 – by 25 cents. Multiple attempts to raise the minimum wage since then went nowhere in the Legislature, largely due to opposition by the same groups that today are now trying to undo the voter-approved minimum wage law.

Maine voters on Nov. 8, 2016, overwhelmingly approved the citizens’ initiative gradually raising Maine’s minimum wage and phasing out Maine’s subminimum wage. They understood how devastating stagnant wages and the subminimum wage have been for Maine’s low-wage workers.

Many low-wage workers are home care workers helping Maine seniors live independently in their own homes. This is a crucial workforce because Maine’s population is the oldest per capita in the nation. Most of the workers we represent at Home Care for Maine and Alpha One earn less than $12 an hour, so they are among the one-third of Maine’s workforce that will get a pay raise as a result of the voter-approved minimum wage law.

Maine voters knew what they were voting for. Members of my union knew, too, and worked hard for its passage. We all understood in voting to gradually raise Maine’s minimum wage, we also were voting to gradually end the discriminatory practice of paying tipped workers a subminimum wage.

If you have concerns about the subminimum wage, then please support LD 1117, creating a commission to study it. Thank you and I would be glad to answer any questions.

Defend voter-approved surcharge for public education

On March 20, we testified against the four legislative proposals seeking to undo the surcharge for public education that Maine voters approved Nov. 8, 2016, in the Stand Up for Students citizens’ initiative.

Senator Dow, Representative Tipping, and members of the Taxation Committee, my name is Mary Anne Turowski, Director of Politics and Legislation for the Maine State Employees Association, Service Employees International Union Local 1989. We are a labor union representing 13,000 public sector and publicly funded workers and retired workers statewide.

Thirteen years ago, in 2004, Maine voters passed an initiative directing the state to pay 55 percent of the cost of public education necessary for all Maine students to reach proficiency standards. Maine voters passed this measure not only because they want Maine students to make the most of their abilities and be contributing members of society, but also because they wanted a better balance of local and state taxes to fund our schools

Well, here we are in 2017, and Maine still hasn’t reached 55 percent for education. The closest the state has gotten was nearly 53 percent in 2009.

Maine property taxpayers, including our members, have been bearing the brunt of the state’s failure to reach 55 percent. Over the years, Maine property taxpayers have found themselves stretched thin. For many of our members, years of stagnant wages, shifts of health insurance costs onto them and their families, and cuts in their retirement security have caused them to fall behind the cost of living. Our retiree members fell behind the cost of living with the 2011 pension cuts, and they still haven’t been able to catch up.

Because of the state’s failure to pay 55 percent for education, Maine people have had to engage in annual, tortured debates in our communities: Do we cut school programs that provide our children the skills they need to enter the workforce, or do we raise property taxes to keep schools competitive? Most Mainers recognize that as a false choice – one they should not have to make, and don’t want to make. That is why nearly 75,000 Mainers, including many of our members, signed petitions for the Stand Up for Students citizens’ initiative, which Maine voters approved Nov. 8, 2016. Our union, MSEA, supported this initiative and its passage.

This initiative provides equity to Maine’s income tax structure to fund our public schools. Since 2011, Maine’s wealthiest residents have benefited enormously from two reductions in their top income tax rate – to the point that millionaires were paying the same tax rate as someone making $40,000 a year. Those tax cuts meant less money coming from the state for our schools. With the citizen’s initiative approved Nov. 8, 2016, Maine voters approved a 3 percent surcharge on incomes over and above $200,000 to support direct student learning in our classrooms. This will help Maine communities invest more in our students, teachers and classrooms.

All of the legislative proposals before you today – LDs 291, 337, 571, 829 and 851 – aim to eliminate or change the voter-enacted surcharge. These proposals undermine the will of Maine voters. Please respect the will of Maine voters by opposing all of these proposals. Thank you and I would be glad to answer any questions.

Join MSEA-SEIU as a retiree member to strengthen our retirement security

MSEA-SEIU retiree members on our Retirees Steering Committee are reaching out to currently working members and recent retirees about the importance of having a voice in our retirement security. Committee members started calling recent retirees about the importance of continuing their membership in our union as retiree members. Earlier, the committee sent them a flier spelling out the benefits of MSEA-SEIU retiree membership. Full story.

MSEA Rising: How the next generation of union leaders are building our power

MSEA-SEIU President Ramona Welton has announced the appointment of MSEA-SEIU member Allison Perkins to our international union’s SEIU Millennials Advisory Committee. This international committee is comprised of younger unionists, known as millennials, throughout North America. They are the first generation to come of age in this millennium. Full story.

Updated: April 14, 2017 — 12:18 pm
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