On March 26, 2021, ten groups and businesses filed two amicus briefs in support of the Whole Foods workers who intervened to protect rights of Portland voters to petition their government and of workers to receive the wages that 63% of Portland voters approved in November of 2020.
Representing thousands of Portland workers and hundreds of Portland businesses, eight groups and organizations, led by the AFL-C10 and the Maine Small Business Coalition, filed a brief calling on the court to reverse the Superior Court ruling postponing the enactment of the hazard pay until 2022.
“Plaintiffs ask the Court to bless a truly extraordinary proposition: The people of Portland, in the midst of the greatest public health crisis in over 100 years that continues to cause substantial limitations on normal life around the globe, decided to grant hazard pay to low-wage, essential workers during a future, hypothetical crisis – but not during the present one…If this Court does not reverse the decision below on this point, it will ratify a manifestly absurd result.”
Joining this brief were Portland Hunt + Alpine Club, The Proper Cup, Maine State Building & Construction Trades Council, the Maine Center for Economic Policy, the Southern Maine Workers Center and People First Portland (PFP). In concluding their brief, these eight groups made clear where the court should ultimately land.
The ACLU of Maine and the League of Women Voters of Maine also submitted a brief arguing that, if the Court accepts the extremely limited view of citizen initiatives advocated by the Chamber of Commerce, it would have a chilly effect on voter rights.
“The Chamber of Commerce and businesses that challenged hazard pay now ask the Court to do what no Maine court has ever done: to withhold from the people some of the powers conferred on municipalities….not only is this argument at odds with basic principles of constitutional interpretation, but, if adopted, it would devastate the local initiative power and violate constitutionally protected rights,” according to the press release issued today by People First Portland (PFP).
“Most concerning…if the Court were to adopt PRCC’s argument, Mainers would have no model to tell us what matters are “exclusively” local, carrying a dangerous and chilling effect on the rights of municipal voters,” the same press release said.
Rachel Kreie, owner of the Proper Cup, joined the amicus by saying: “The Proper Cup enacted the $18. hazard pay wage at its shop in December because it cares for its employees and recognizes that any public-facing job carries a risk of contracting COVID-19. It has an interest in ensuring that the law passed by voters is enforced against businesses who have refused to pay hazard pay.”
Kate Sykes, an organizer with PFP, said: “The number of non-partisan organizations and businesses joining this fight make clear that the future of home rule in the State of Maine and the sanctity of democracy itself is at stake in this case – The Law Court must affirm the superior court’s decision in the constitutionally of the question and overturn the decision that postponed implementation of hazard pay until 2022. The people of Portland spoke loud and clear and the workers of our city shall prevail.”
On the evening of November 10, 2020, the city’s spokeswoman issued the following statement in a brief press release:
“The city will not enforce emergency wages for Portland workers until 2022.”
People First Portland (PFP) responded the same evening, November 10, with the following statement in its press release:
“The language of the ordinance and the will of the people are clear: over 25,000 Portland residents voted for an increased minimum wage with hazard pay of $18.00 an hour going into effect on December 3, 2020. Nothing has changed with the Council’s declaration tonight. PFP will continue to educate workers that they are entitled to $18.00 an hour for in-person work starting on December 3, 2020……the Council is also putting our local businesses at risk of owing significant back pay should a business choose to listen to the Council and not implement the legal language.”
For more background information on these two opposing views, please visit two posts herein both dated November 10, 2020.