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Voters Gave Workers a Raise

In an otherwise dismal election, minimum wage ballot initiatives were a bright spot.

Blogging Our Great Divide
November 09, 2016

by Christopher Pitt

We’ll have a full update of inequality-related ballot initiatives up shortly. But with so much bad news, we wanted to report on one of the few bright spots in the election: minimum wage ballot initiatives.

Just as in 2014, voters who had the opportunity to vote in favor of a minimum wage increase did so. Workers at the bottom of the pay scale in Maine, Colorado, Arizona, and Washington will all be enjoying a raise.

Colorado, Arizona, and Maine voters approved a measure to phase in an increase to $12 an hour by 2020. Washington chose to raise its minimum wage to $13.50 over that same time period.

Labor Unions, nonprofits, business owners, and other supporters of Amendment 70 in Colorado argued that higher wages are an issue of social fairness. To win, they had to beat back strong opposition from “Keep Colorado Working,” which was supported by the powerful Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry and other business groups.

Proposition 206 in the red state of Arizona will increase the base wage incrementally from $8.05 to $12 an hour. It will rise to $10 next year, then increase every year until 2020. Southern Arizona’s director for Proposition 206, Zaira Livier, estimated that 1.6 million Arizonans would benefit from the raise. “I think we are going to have a healthier, thriving Arizona because of it,” Livier said. The Arizona city of Flagstaff also passed an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour, along with a phaseout of the subminimum for restaurant servers and other tipped workers who haven’t gotten a raise in their federal minimum of $2.13 for 25 years.

Maine’s Question 4 also phased out the subminimum wage for restaurant servers and other tipped workers by no later than 2024. In response to the wins in Flagstaff and Maine, Saru Jayaraman, Fekkak Mamdouh, Co-Directors and Co-Founders of Restaurant Opportunities Center United, wrote, “These victories prove that despite all our divisions, when these issues are taken directly to Americans, Americans still vote for gender equality, an end to sexual harassment, and an end to the legacy of slavery that the subminimum wage for tipped workers still represents.”

Washington’s low wage workers will earn at least $13.50 an hour by 2020. In both that state and Arizona, workers will also gain the benefit of paid sick leave.

Voters in South Dakota also shot down a measure that would have lowered the state’s minimum wage for teens. Referred Law 20 in South Dakota would have established a youth minimum wage of $7.50 an hour for workers under 18, rather than the regular minimum of $8.55. Voters in South Dakota rejected this proposal after opponents successfully argued that the law is discriminatory and an affront to voters who had overwhelmingly passed a hike to the minimum wage for all workers in 2014.

What do these victories mean? The fight to raise the minimum wage is a bipartisan issue. Despite continued opposition from some conservatives and chambers of commerce, polls show there is growing support for this initiative among business and Republican leaders.

This bipartisan support bodes well for future negotiations in other states and the federal level. Let’s hope this is one issue that can break the deadlock in Washington.

Christopher Pitt is a participant in the Next Leader program at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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