November 6, 2014
By Steven Wishnia
In an election that saw scores of anti-labor candidates sweep into office, voters also approved every minimum-wage measure on the ballot. Four states and two cities elected to give their lowest-paid workers a raise.
The two cities were the left-liberal bastions of San Francisco and Oakland, but the four states were Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, all of which were solidly Republican in major statewide races.
Alaska’s Ballot Measure 3, which will raise the state’s minimum from $7.75 per hour to $8.75 on Jan. 1, won almost 70% of the vote. The minimum will go up to $9.75 in 2016 and, from there on, be adjusted based on inflation or remain $1 higher than the federal minimum wage, whichever amount is greater. Tips would not count as income.
In Arkansas, Issue 5, which got 65% of the vote, will raise the state’s minimum wage from $6.25 to $7.50 on Jan. 1, to $8 in 2016, and to $8.50 in 2017. Republican senator-elect Tom Cotton, who unseated Democrat Mark Pryor, was reluctant at first, but eventually endorsed the measure.
The Nebraska Minimum Wage Increase, Initiative 425, won with 59%. It will increase the state minimum from $7.25 to $8 on Jan. 1 and to $9 in 2016. However, businesses with fewer than four workers are exempt under the 1967 law that established the state’s minimum.
“Working families were on the ballot and Nebraska voters honored our state’s proud tradition of lending a hand to neighbors in need,” Rod Vlcek, president of the Nebraska State AFL-CIO, said in a statement. “Working men and women were proud to support this effort because we all do better when we all do better.”
The narrowest win came in South Dakota, where Initiated Measure 18 got 54%. It will raise the minimum wage $7.25 to $8.50 on Jan. 1, and guarantee annual cost-of-living increases after that. It also sets the minimum for tipped employees' wages at half that, raising the floor under their hourly pay from $2.13 to $4.25. Sponsored by the state Democratic Party, it was also backed by the South Dakota Education Association, the state’s main teachers union.
More than $100,000 workers in San Francisco will get a raise next year. Proposition J, which will increase the city minimum to $12.25 next May 1, got 77%. It will go up to $15 by 2018, matching Seattle, which approved a similar increase last year, as the nation’s highest minimum.
Across the Bay in Oakland, 79% of voters approved Measure FF, which will raise the city’s minimum to $12.25 as of next March 2, prohibit restaurants and hotels from taking a piece of workers’ tips, and also require employers to provide paid sick days.
In Illinois, 69% of voters backed lifting the minimum for workers 18 or older from $8.25 to $10 on Jan. 1. The vote was purely advisory, however. Republican governor-elect Bruce Rauner, who last December advocated cutting the minimum by $1 to make Illinois more “competitive,” by January had changed his stance to support raising it as long as the national minimum went up too and it was coupled to “pro-business” policies. He told the Chicago Tribune that it was a “class warfare issue.”
Wisconsin also had local advisory referenda, and more than two-thirds of Milwaukee County voters favored the state raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. Voters in Racine and nearby Kenosha County—both carried by Gov. Scott Walker—also supported it. Walker is unlikely to follow that advice; his state labor board recently ruled that there is “no evidence” that $7.25 is not enough to live on in the “reasonable comfort” required by state law.
Minimum-wage initiatives failed to qualify for the ballot in California, Idaho, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Washington state, and Washington, DC. In Oregon, SEIU Local 503 wants to get a $15 minimum on the state ballot in 2016.