by Mitchell Hirsch
Last week the Arizona Supreme Court unanimously rejected a lawsuit attempting to block the statewide minimum wage increase and new paid sick days protections that voters overwhelmingly approved in November, sending the business groups challenging the law packing once again.
Grasping at straws, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry had led a move after the election to have the law invalidated, having previously failed in their attempts last year to keep it off the ballot and then block its implementation. This time, they put up a straw man, claiming the new law was akin to a spending bill requiring a funding source, instead of a law upgrading employment standards. The court, rightly, rejected that claim.
Using the citizens’ initiative process that has been available to voters since the state’s founding, 59 percent of Arizona voters in November approved a measure raising the minimum wage in stages to $12 per hour by 2020 and guaranteeing a minimum number of paid sick days each year for most workers. The ballot initiative received more votes statewide than any candidate for public office, including Senator John McCain and Donald Trump, both of whom won their races in Arizona.
The first stage of the Arizona increases took effect on January 1st of this year, raising the state’s minimum wage from $8.05 to $10 per hour. As many as 700,000 of Arizona’s lowest-paid workers immediately saw pay raises. All told, by 2020, more than 850,000 Arizonans will benefit directly from higher hourly pay as a result of the law’s scheduled minimum wage increases.
Voters in Colorado, Maine, and Washington also approved statewide minimum wage increases to $12 or higher last November, all by substantial margins. As in Arizona, business groups in Maine and Washington are now attempting to roll back those states’ raises.
Meanwhile, in other states, including Missouri and Iowa, Republican lawmakers — at the urging of business lobbyists, and despite broad public opposition – are trying to block cities and counties from enacting higher minimum wages and nullify local raises already enacted. There and elsewhere, lawmakers wedded to business lobby interests are working furiously to keep low-wage workers locked in poverty. But the tide has already turned against them. And they know it.