Minimum Wage Ballot Victories Show Strong Public Support for Raising Wages
by Mitchell Hirsch
Voters in four states and one city approved ballot measures raising their minimum wages by substantial margins on Election Day 2016. Arizona, Colorado and Maine voters by double-digit margins backed measures to raise the minimum wage in to $12 per hour by 2020. In Washington, the measure raising the minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020 was approved by a 16 point margin. And voters made Flagstaff, Arizona the first city outside of the coasts to adopt a $15 minimum wage.
In all four states approving the minimum wage increases, those ballot measures’ “Yes” votes exceeded the vote totals for either of the major parties’ presidential candidates – striking proof of the broad public support for raising wages across party lines and different regions of the country.
The minimum wage ballot measure wins are also a testament to the effectiveness of local grassroots organizing that taps into and strengthens the growing movement for higher wages personified by the national Fight for $15 – even in the face of opposition from business-backed lobby groups.
Notably, the Arizona and Washington measures also include paid sick time protections for workers. And the Maine and Flagstaff measures will gradually raise the minimum wage for tipped workers until it equals the minimum wage for non-tipped workers – the first time in thirty years that a city or state has eliminated the archaic subminimum tipped wage.
In addition, voters in South Dakota overwhelmingly rejected a discriminatory law passed by the legislature establishing a lower minimum wage for workers under the age of 18.
Overall, the minimum wage increases passed by voters on Election Day 2016 will raise pay for 2.3 million workers, bringing to nearly 20 million the number of workers who’ve won minimum wage raises since the Fight for $15 launched four years ago.
A look at the vote totals shows just how popular substantial increases in minimum wages are with voters.
By an 18 point margin – 59 percent to 41 percent – voters in Arizona approved Proposition 206, raising the minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020 and mandating paid sick time for workers. The “Yes” votes for the minimum wage increase totaled 1,195,027 – more votes than those received for any statewide candidate in the election, including Senator John McCain (R), who won reelection with 1,089,324 votes, and Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, who won the state with 1,021,154 votes.
An estimated 856,734 workers in Arizona will see hourly pay raises by 2020 as a result of the 2016 ballot measure passing.
Colorado Amendment 70, which raises the minimum wage in the state to $12 by 2020, was approved by a nearly ten point margin – 54.6 percent to 45.3 percent, with the “Yes” votes totaling 1,381,245 – more votes than those received by Senator Michael Bennett (D), who won reelection with 1,242,335 votes, and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, who won the state with 1,208,095 votes.
An estimated 477,000 workers in Colorado will see hourly pay raises by 2020 as a result of Amendment 70 passing.
By a ten point margin – 55 percent to 45 percent — voters in Maine approved Question 4, raising the state’s minimum wage to $12 by 2020 and gradually eliminating the subminimum wage for tipped workers. The “Yes” votes for the minimum wage increase totaled 417,132 – more than the 354,873 votes tallied for Hillary Clinton, who garnered more votes statewide than any other presidential candidate.
An estimated 181,000 workers in Maine will see hour pay raises by 2020 as a result of voters approving the minimum wage increase.
By slightly more than a 16 point margin – 58.01 percent to 41.99 percent – voters approved Initiative Measure 1433, raising the state’s minimum wage to $13.50 per hour by 2020 and guaranteeing paid sick time for nearly all workers. The “Yes” votes for the minimum wage increase totaled 1,436,766 – more than the 1,364,934 votes for Hillary Clinton, who out-polled Donald Trump in the state by 13 points.*
And estimated 730,000 workers in Washington will see hourly pay raises as a result of the minimum wage measure passing.
Local Proposition 414, which raises the minimum wage in the city to $15 by 2021, passed with a more than six point margin – 53.6 percent to 46.74 percent – making Flagstaff the first city away from the east or west coasts to enact a $15 minimum wage. The measure also raises the tipped minimum wage over time until the subminimum tipped wage is eliminated, and requires that the local minimum wage always be at least $2 per hour higher than the state minimum.
By 2021, an estimated 22,000 workers in Flagstaff will see hourly pay raises as a result of voters approving Proposition 414.
By a margin of 71 percent to 29 percent, South Dakota voters rejected Referred Law 20 which would set a lower minimum wage for workers under the age of 18 of $7.50 per hour and eliminate its annual cost of living adjustments. The Republican-controlled state legislature passed a discriminatory law to enact the lower youth wage, but opponents of the law gathered enough petition signatures to place the issue on the ballot. With 256,658 “No” votes, South Dakotans overturned the law and maintained the statewide minimum wage for workers of all ages of $8.55 per hour, which was established by voters approving a ballot measure in 2014 raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 and mandating annual cost of living adjustments.
The “No” vote total exceeded the 227,701 votes tallied in the state for Donald Trump, who carried South Dakota by thirty points.
A People-Powered Movement
All five of the ballot measure victories raising the minimum wage were the result of state and local organizing by workers and activists banding together, drawing in massive grassroots support backed by labor and progressive groups and national partners.
The minimum wage ballot campaigns, which also helped boost election turnout among low-income voters, were each led by grassroots coalitions: Arizonans for Fair Wages and Healthy Families; Colorado Families for a Fair Wage; Mainers for Fair Wages; Raise Up Washington; and the Flagstaff Living Wage Coalition. The campaigns were supported by national groups, including the Center for Popular Democracy, The Fairness Project, the National Employment Law Project, and affiliates of the People’s Action and Pico Networks.
No longer waiting for politicians to respond to the needs of their constituents, instead of the pressures of their big business lobbyist friends and wealthy donors, working people are increasingly taking issues into their own hands, rising up and organizing to deliver substantial minimum wage increases – in red states, in blue states, in purple swing states – across the country… with more to come.
*note: all vote totals are unofficial and may change slightly as some previously uncounted precincts in some states are counted.