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Portland emergency wage delayed to 2022

From Portland C of C

PORTLAND – The Maine Supreme Judicial Court handed down its decision last week in the case challenging the emergency wage in Portland.

The Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce had filed an appeal of a previous ruling supporting the emergency wage, and the Court agreed with the Chamber’s position that the emergency wage provision does not take effect until January 2022.

The ordinance sets a date of Jan. 1, 2022, for a raise in the minimum wage for businesses operating in the City of Portland, and sets an “emergency wage” of 1.5 times that rate. That wage would be paid when an emergency is declared, similar to the recent COVID-19 emergency.

Workers had contended the ordinance should provide immediate payments of the emergency wage, while the Supreme Judicial Court determined that the section setting the emergency wage had specifically referenced the text with the January 2022 date, so that would be the earliest date the emergency wage could be required.

The Chamber did not prevail in its position that allowing the municipal voters, as opposed to the elected City Council, to set a sharply escalated emergency minimum wage is unconstitutional. The Court said the constitution should be interpreted to allow for this vote approving the ordinance to stand as law. The Court’s ruling said that recent changes in Maine’s constitution now allow for municipal ordinances such as the increase in the minimum wage, and, “Pursuant to the City Code, Portland voters may petition the city council to submit to a vote “any proposed ordinance dealing with legislative matters on municipal affairs.” Portland, Me.”

This decision from the Court means that businesses in Portland are not required to pay the emergency wage for the past COVID-19 pandemic, and will only have to make emergency wage payments should the city or state declare a state of emergency on or after January 1, 2022.

Governor Janet Mills lifted the Maine state of emergency as of June 30, and the Portland City Council has planned a vote to lift the Portland state of emergency at their meeting on July 19.

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