City Ends COVID Hazard Pay for Workers, Reducing Minimum Wage by $6.50 in Portland, Maine

The city council of Portland, Maine, has voted to end COVID hazard pay for workers, a move that will reduce the minimum wage by $6.50.

The $19.50 per hour hazard pay went into effect Jan. 1, 2022. The wage increase was approved by voters in a 2020 ballot referendum as a way to help support laborers who continued working despite possibly exposing themselves to COVID-19.

The referendum said that the increased wage would be offered for as long as the city remained under a state of emergency due to the ongoing pandemic.

However, on Monday night, the city council voted 8-1 to repeal the city's state of emergency order, which was instated in August 2021. As a result, the order will be lifted on either Jan. 13 or Jan. 14, city attorney Jen Thompson told the Portland Press Herald.

Portland Maine city council hazard pay mimimum
The city council of Portland, Maine, has voted to end COVID hazard pay for workers. The vote will cause a $6.50 reduction in the minimum wage. In this photo, a worker stands behind a partial protective plastic screen and wears a mask and gloves as she works as a cashier at a supermarket on April 13, 2020. Joe Raedle/Getty

Councilors said they were swayed by comments made by business owners who said they would be burdened by the hazard pay increase. Some of the business owners who spoke at council meetings said they had already faced lower revenues because of the pandemic. Many also said they were experiencing a slowdown during the winter months as more people stay indoors.

However, the councilors also said they felt more should be done to address low wages and risks faced by frontline workers. Though the city's emergency order was never intended to stay in place forever, the pandemic has continued to present health risks, even for vaccinated workers.

"I am deeply troubled by the idea we do have minimum wage workers in Portland who are frontline workers who are put at risk without any risk compensation on a daily basis," Councilor Anna Trevorrow said, according to the Herald.

While voting to end the state of emergency, the city council also passed a citywide indoor mask mandate for all indoor businesses, but will include an exception for businesses that require proof of COVID-19 vaccinations.

The mask mandate will go into effect at midnight Wednesday.

Newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 within Maine reached an all-time high in December. On Dec. 10, the state reported 2,149 cases—its highest-ever daily toll. As of Jan. 2, the daily average of newly reported cases over the last week is about 708, according to The New York Times.

While the city's minimum wage will soon return to $13, it will continue to increase over the next few years. That's because in the election Nov. 3, 2020, voters approved another referendum to increase the city's minimum wage ordinance by $1.00 per hour annually until reaching $15 per hour in 2024.