National Consumers League

Victory for hourly workers in four states despite the nation’s turn to the right

SG_HEADSHOT.jpgWhile American voters elected a president who campaigned against all things liberal on Tuesday, four states supported minimum wage increases in the same election. These add a measure of hope that progressive agenda issues can succeed, even in a year when progressives are not elected to the highest office. 

The winning tallies will raise hourly wages in Colorado, Arizona, Maine, and Washington. In Washington State, the wage will rise to $13.50 by 2020 and to $12 per hour in others, in the same time frame.

According to the Wall Street Journal, that would put them on the level of what is deemed the current statewide living wage by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living-wage calculator, which uses location-specific expenditure data to estimate the wage needed to support an individual or family in a given area.

The nonprofit Ballot Initiative Strategy Center helped to get these measures passed and by the look of things, they are very good at it. The group describes itself as “the only progressive organization that works across the many policy, organizing and political organizations, with local, state and national players to analyze and support the ballot measure landscape.” 

In the one state, Arizona, that supported an increased minimum wage and also supported Donald Trump for president, education groups and about 200 local small businesses supported the measure, saying it would be better for their employees and the community as a whole. They won by a whopping 59 to 41 percent! The current minimum wage equates to about $17,000 a year. Both local and national groups put about $1.6 million into the campaign to support Prop. 206. Apparently, the restaurants and other businesses that opposed it didn’t put any money behind their campaign, which might explain the lopsided win.

The Washington state measure was backed by labor unions and worker advocates and appears to have won by a wide margin. Supporters argued that the state’s current minimum wage isn’t enough to live on, and a boost would mean workers have more to spend. They also argued that many workers don’t have access to paid sick leave, posing a public-health problem.

Business groups opposed the initiative, saying that while Seattle’s booming economy can support a high minimum wage, the rest of the state isn’t faring so well. Boosting the minimum wage in those areas could lead to higher prices and cuts in jobs and work hours, they say.

The Maine provision had a 56 percent lead when The Associated Press called the measure yesterday, while the effort in Colorado garnered around 55 percent of counted votes, compared with 44.9 percent against.

These resounding votes in support of minimum wage hikes are certainly an interesting development. They seem to show that the public largely supports fair wages for hourly workers, even in states that lean right. That’s an important message for progressives in an election year when not much went their way. 

Updated November 10, 2016: Voters chose health in California and Boulder, Colorado, where measures were passed on November 8, 2016 to tax sugary beverages in hopes to decrease high rates of chronic disease and fund more public health programs.