Wooing workers cuts both ways

We should take note and celebrate that The Jackson Laboratory announced plans to hire 300 new employees this year. This action is another significant milestone along the path to deliver on Jackson Lab’s earlier announced commitment to grow the size of its local workforce through the year 2026. The foundation of our regional economy is strengthened with the steady year-round career positions provided to hundreds of Jackson Lab employees.

The announcement trumpeted increasing the lab’s entry-level wage to $15.75 per hour following the successful completion of training and that employees will be on track to increase their base salary up to 25 percent in just two years. The lab continues to offer robust training and college tuition reimbursement along with relocation bonuses for new animal care employees who choose to relocate from a distance of more than 50 miles to work at Bar Harbor or Ellsworth.

As the largest private-sector employer in Hancock County, the lab sets the standard against which all other job creators are measured. The new $15.75 per hour plus benefits entry level salary offered by the lab represents an economic boon to job seekers. It also highlights the daunting challenge facing small independently owned businesses that may struggle to offer comparable pay and benefits.

Unique and powerful trends are conflating to change the nature of work and employment and challenge the core model of how a business reliant on paid staff adjusts quickly enough to remain viable. Major trends include the reduction of the number of people that make up our workforce, Maine’s record low numbers of unemployed people seeking work and the cap and delay of issuing federal H-2B visas for foreign workers to fill seasonal jobs that cannot be filled with domestic workers. Coupled with fewer available workers Maine politicians and policy makers are keeping an aggressive 33 percent increase in Maine’s hourly mandated minimum wage on track and the Legislature and Governor seem poised to enact a new statewide employer paid leave requirement along with possible increases of employer paid workers compensation insurance rates.

The landscape for all employers, large and small, is changing fast. Many small owner-operator “Mom & Pop” businesses reflect our identity, our values and how we see ourselves as a community. Can the little guy and gal keep up with the big ones and pay new employees a $15.75 per hour starting wage?

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