Auburn shoe store owner Jim Wellehan may be retiring and selling his company to its employees this year, but he’s not stepping down from the spotlight.
Wellehan, the second generation of family leadership for the business founded in 1914, got recent social media mentions from President Barack Obama for his participation in a video campaign about raising the federal minimum wage.
Wellehan’s in the video not just for his support of raising the minimum wage, but for the amount he pays workers at his company’s six stores. WLBZ reported Wellehan’s lowest-paid worker made about $12 an hour last year.
The national campaign aims to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. Maine’s Northern New England neighbor Vermont made history in June, voting to raise its state minimum wage to that level.
Earlier this month, the Rockland-based Free Press reported Pen Bay Healthcare raised the minimum wage for its workers to $10.10, following a move by Maine Medical Center and consideration by other MaineHealth network members.
Efforts to raise Maine’s minimum wage to $9 by 2016 fell to a veto from Gov. Paul LePage last year. It is now $7.50. The governor said in that letter the state should focus on creating better jobs rather than improving pay for the lowest-paying jobs now available.
For Wellehan, it’s not the first time he has declared his support for raising the minimum level for how much workers can be paid. He was one of almost 1,000 business leaders to sign an April petition to the U.S. Senate, calling for better pay.
Here’s what he said in that statement:
The minimum wage sets a floor under worker wages, and wages, in turn, supply the consumer purchasing power that is vital to business. A higher minimum wage would have good ripple effects from local businesses to local schools. Our tax base would be sounder and our social safety net less stressed.
Wellehan hit on some of the same notes in the video for Organizing for Action, the group that advocates for President Obama’s agenda.
In it, he talks about ideas of fairness he said used to be a matter of public consciousness:
When I was a kid, America was definitely concerned with fairness. And that concern for people seems to be missing today in our corporate culture and we’ve got to change that. We should be paying people enough to live on comfortably, educate their kids, to bring up their kids.
Wellehan talked about the idea that the country used to be more concerned with fairness in a recent episode of State of the State, produced by the Maine Center for Economic Policy.
In it, he said his father’s upbringing in poverty informed how his father ran the shoe company he founded and how perceptions of wealth have changed since the first half of the 20th century.