NELP Applauds Initiative Filing as Arizona Becomes Fifth State Where Voters May Decide Minimum Wage Increases on Election Day 2016
Washington, DC— Last week, a coalition of community, faith and worker groups from across Arizona started collecting signatures to place an initiative on the 2016 ballot asking voters to support healthy families by raising the state’s minimum wage to $10 in 2017 with gradual increases until it reaches $12 by 2020, and by creating new paid sick leave protections for workers. Around 779,000 workers, or roughly 30 percent of the Arizona workforce, would receive badly needed raises if the measure were approved. Workers at businesses with 15 or more employees would be able to accrue up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year, while those working at businesses with fewer than 15 employees would be able to accrue up to 24 hours of paid sick leave per year.
“We applaud the filing of this Arizona 2016 ballot initiative to support healthy families by raising the statewide minimum wage to $12 by 2020 and providing paid sick leave time for working Arizonans,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “We look forward to seeing the state’s voters exercise their democratic right to improve the lives and living standards of working people and families.”
“These minimum wage ballot measures have proven to be a critically important tool enabling voters to circumvent do-nothing politicians who refuse to maintain adequate minimum wage rates and refuse to help the lowest-paid workers lift themselves out of poverty,” added Owens.
Arizona has a minimum wage law on the books only because voters passed a minimum wage ballot initiative in 2006. That initiative, which voters approved by an almost 31-point margin, set the state minimum wage $1.60 higher than the $5.15 federal minimum wage then in effect, and established an annual cost-of-living adjustment. It also gave Arizona cities the power to enact their own minimum wage and benefits laws to ensure that cities can respond to local needs. Today, the current minimum wage of $8.05 is only 80 cents above the poverty-level $7.25 federal minimum wage, and is far from adequate.
According to the Economic Policy Institute’s family budget calculator, a single worker with no children in the Phoenix area needs to earn at least $13.55 per hour working a 40-hour week simply to afford the basics; households with children need to earn significantly more.
Hundreds of thousands of Arizonans suffer from wages that are far too low to sustain their families. The poverty rate in Arizona was 19.6 percent—the fourth-highest of the 50 states—according to the most recent two-year average from the Census Bureau.
Raising the minimum wage to $12 in stages over four years will give businesses ample time to adjust, improve the living standards and purchasing power of low-wage workers, and boost the consumer economy for businesses across the state. The timing of this ballot initiative is also especially significant, as the state legislature is working furiously this session to revoke or undermine the power of local governments to enact minimum wage and other employee benefits protections.
“NELP salutes the efforts of LUCHA—Living United for Change in Arizona—and its allies for leading the campaign to place the statewide $12 minimum wage and paid sick leave initiative on the 2016 ballot, and we are confident that Arizonans will approve this measure with their votes in November,” said Owens.
The year 2016 is shaping up to be a critical year for state minimum wage ballot initiatives. Organizers in Maine, Washington, Colorado, the District of Columbia—and now Arizona—are all looking to place significant minimum wage increases on this year’s ballot.