Voters threw their weight behind state, county, and city referendums raising the minimum wage across seven states on Election Day Tuesday.
420,000 minimum wage workers in Alaska, Arkansas, South Dakota, and Nebraska can now expect a higher hourly beginning January 1, although many of the approved increases will happen gradually over the course of the next two years. Alaska’s minimum wage is now set to be $9.75 an hour by January 2016, with an $8.75 rate taking effect in the new year. Arkansas will boost their minimum wage to $7.50 this January and $8.50 in January 2017. Nebraska’s will increase to $8.00 on January 1 and $9 in January 2016. South Dakota’s minimum wage will ultimately increase to $9.00 in January 2016, but workers will see a $1.25 jump this January to $8.50 an hour.
Illinois voters also passed an advisory measure raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour Tuesday, but it was non-binding. If Illinois were to take up the increase, 680,000 low-wage workers across the five states – two-thirds of whom are women and one quarter of whom are raising children – will get a raise as they ring in the new year.
Although the increases are modest, they send a strong message to national legislators about the broadening support for living wages for all workers across the country. Yesterday’s victories united voters across party lines, and over 25 states have now taken action to raise the minimum wage. On Election Day, efforts to give low-wage workers a raise even won at the county and city level.
190,000 workers in San Francisco and Oakland will also see raises after two successful measures to raise the minimum wages in those California cities were approved by voters. San Francisco’s Proposition J will gradually raise the minimum wage in the Bay Area city to $15 an hour by July 2018, beginning with an increase on January 1. The move rivals nearby Seattle’s historic decision to do the same earlier this year and affirmed the “living wage” activists have been championing since 2012 across the country as part of the Fight for 15, but unlike Seattle’s minimum wage law, San Francisco’s wage hike covers nearly all workers – including those that earn tips – and takes effect faster.In Oakland, Measure FF will give up to 48,000 workers a raise in March of 2015 when the city adopts a $12.25 an hour minimum wage.
Shum Preston, a spokesperson for the SEIU Local 1021, which was a proponent of Proposition J, called the city-based strategy “The California Model” in an interview with the SFGate. “These ballot initiatives are the right issue at the right time,” he told them. “This is a strong example of the traditional progressive left in the Bay Area not only being relevant, but driving a national agenda.”
California’s municipalities were not alone, however, in expressing support yesterday for local initatives to raise the minimum wage. In Wisconsin, nine counties and four cities including Racine, Milwuakee, and Kenosha approved an advisory referendum raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee championed Proposition J, and spoke out prior to the election to voters about his time washing dishes in his family’s restaurant growing up. “I know what [low-wage workers] are going through,” he said to SFGate. “I’ve washed those dishes.” Lee also looked forward in his remarks. “We are now going to be the light for the rest of the country to lead the way on a real, true minimum wage.”
Nationally, support for minimum wage increases is high, but efforts to raise the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 to $10.10 floundered this year in Congress when Republicans voted along party lines to reject the Minimum Wage Fairness Act. President Obama increased the minimum wage for nearly 200,000 workers employed by federal contractors in February, but the Minimum Wage Fairness Act would extend the same increase to 28 million workers. Many families relying on minimum wage salaries are still living well below the poverty line, and women and minorities – who disproportionately make up low-wage workers – are suffering the most.
“Faced with an unresponsive Congress and opposition by Republican-controlled legislatures in a numbers of states, Americans came out in force to vote for minimum wage increases across the country,” Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project Action Fund, told NBC news. “Rare is the issue that can bring together voters in South Dakota and San Francisco.”
Media Resources: NBC News 11/5/14; CNN 11/5/14; FiveThirtyEight Politics 10/30/14; Milwaukee Business Journal 11/5/14; Ward Room 11/5/14; SFGate 11/4/14; Mic News 11/5/14; Feminist Newswire 2/14/14, 5/1/14, 9/4/14, 11/4/14