The minimum wage also makes corporations sad. And their power in state legislatures usually means that they get their way, not to mention in Congress. But in 24 states, there’s another option: the ballot measure. And once again, we see a bunch of states seeking to raise the minimum wage through the suffrage.
On the ballot in Washington state is an initiative that will raise the minimum wage from its current level of $9.47 an hour to $13.50 an hour by 2020. In Arizona, Colorado, and Maine, voters will consider raising the bottom wages to $12 an hour by 2020. In Arizona and Washington the measures that would establish mandatory paid sick leave. If passed, the increased minimum wages impact more than 2.1 million low-wage workers.
“We all know that our economy is broken. We have seen that elected officials are just failing to do anything about it,” says Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of The Fairness Project, a group that helped launch and finance the ballot measure campaigns. “The best way for us to make the changes that impact working Americans immediately is not to wait for politicians to figure this out but for us to support ballot measures that allow voters to speak out.”
The California SEIU mega-local United Health Workers launched the Fairness Project last year, as part of President Dave Regan’s strategy to get minimum wage increases on the ballot in the 24 states that allow such measures. “This is the best value in American politics,” Regan told The Washington Post last year. “If you can amass $25 million, you can put a question in front of half the country that simply can’t be moved through legislatures because of big money in politics.”
Of course, Republicans are freaking out, especially given that all these measures look likely to pass.
The measures’ popularity with the voting public hasn’t kept prominent Republicans from coming out in opposition. Senator John McCain, who is in the middle of a tough re-election campaign, has echoed industry talking points—like those of former McDonald’s CEO Ed Rensi—that any increase to the minimum wage will devastate business profit margins and will inevitably result in automation. “Twice I’ve talked to groups of franchisees here in Arizona, Taco Bell and McDonalds, those places that give you the first rung on the ladder. They said, ‘Fine. The next time you drive up to a window, you won’t be talking to a person. The next time you they hand you a hamburger and French fries, it will come out a slot.’ … They have a certain profit margin. They cannot raise their cost of their product or people will stop purchasing it. So what are they going to do? They’re going to automate. So somebody is going to have to convince me that it’s good for employment in America, and I don’t think it is,” McCain told the Tucson Weekly in September.
Never mind that in 78 years of the minimum wage, we literally have zero evidence that a single minimum wage increase has ever led to a net decrease in jobs. None. Despite the models of economists, we simply have no evidence that this has ever happened. That’s worth stating over and over and over again in these debates.
Maine’s blustery Governor Paul LePage took the anti-raise argument a step further, saying that raising the minimum wage in his state wouldn’t just kill jobs—it would (somehow) kill senior citizens. “To me when you go out and kill somebody, you go to jail. Well, this is attempted murder in my mind because it is pushing people to the brink of survival,” LePage said earlier this month, referring to two advocates of the minimum wage increase. “They are deliberately and knowingly hurting Mainers.”
Evidently, the truest form of freedom is unpaid labor. That wouldn’t kill any Mainers!
I’m still amazed LePage didn’t end up as Trump’s VP choice.