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Portland's hazard pay provision won't take effect until January 2022, rules Maine Supreme Court

The provision for extra pay during declared emergencies was included in a minimum wage proposal that will increase that rate from $12 to $15 an hour by 2025

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that Portland's voter-approved hazard pay provision will not take effect until January 2022.

The provision raises the emergency wage for Portland workers to time-and-a-half pay when the governor or the city declares a state of emergency. Tuesday's judgment affirms a Superior Court judgment from February.

The provision for extra wages during a declared emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic was included in a minimum wage proposal that will increase that rate from $12 to $15 an hour by 2025. It was approved by more than 60% of voters in a local referendum in November.

The Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce sued to delay the hazard pay, arguing the initiative was invalid under the Maine Constitution and the Portland City Code. The chamber also contended that lifting the minimum wage from $12 to $18 during the pandemic would hurt businesses that are already struggling.

Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Quincy Hentzel said in a statement Tuesday that while they did not prevail, "we are glad that businesses in Portland finally have some certainty regarding this new ordinance."

Hentzel also said the Portland Regional Chamber is "pleased that the Court agreed with our position that the emergency wage provision does not take effect until January 1, 2022."

Ahead of the 2020 election, Portland Mayor Kate Snyder and seven members of the city council came out against all five of the referendum questions, including the minimum wage hike and hazard pay question. In a release, Snyder said, "Minimum wage is an important issue to continually address. However, a Portland-only mandated jump to $15/per hour and the requirement to pay time and a half (up to $22.50) during any declared emergency would likely have devastating impacts on both small businesses and employees in Portland."

"Without commenting on the direct issue in which this ordinance seeks to address, we're pleased the court agreed that our legal interpretation of the ordinance was correct as we strive to fulfill our obligation of implementing voter approved ordinances," Jessica Grondin, communications director for the city of Portland, wrote in an email to NEWS CENTER Maine in response to the high court's decision on Tuesday

The state of emergency declarations in Maine and Portland that were in effect for the past 15 months due to the pandemic were lifted on June 30.

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