Arizona Restaurant Lobby’s Sham Minimum Wage Ballot Attempt Fails

The tactics being employed by opponents of minimum wage increases are, to quote Alice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, getting “curiouser and curiouser!”

Faced with a likely statewide ballot measure that would raise Arizona’s minimum wage to $12 by 2020 and guarantee paid sick time for workers if passed by voters in November, opponents tried recently to place an alternative measure on the ballot by legislative fiat.  At the behest of the Arizona Restaurant Association, a group of Republican state legislators proposed a counter-measure that would only raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2020, change the formula for tipped workers so that they would get less of an increase, and explicitly bar cities and counties from enacting higher local minimum wages.

The idea was to trick voters into either passing a much lower minimum wage increase than the $12 ballot initiative and enact state preemption of local wage laws, or defeating both measures thus blocking any increase.

The current state minimum wage of $8.05 will rise to nearly $9 by 2020 anyway due to projected annual cost of living adjustments, so the raise to $9.50 is barely a raise at all.  Restaurants and other employers of tipped workers would get an even better carve out on wages than they already do.  And, if approved, the sham counter-measure would undo a provision, enacted by a 2006 citizen ballot initiative, allowing cities and counties to pass higher minimum wages – something that can’t be done by legislation, only by another ballot measure.  In Arizona, initiative laws can be placed on the ballot by citizens’ petitions or by passing bills to do so.  That’s what industry lobbyists and their Republican allies were attempting to do in the majority-Republican legislature.

But after passing the Senate, the effort failed in the House.  Having been instructed for years by business lobbyists to oppose any and all attempts to raise the minimum wage, it seems enough Republicans just couldn’t learn the new trick.  The measure came up three votes short, and when it was clear it would not pass, House leaders kept the vote open so that nearly all the Republicans could change their votes to “no” and avoid being on record favoring a minimum wage increase.


At the same time, they did pass another preemption measure that seeks to prohibit cities and counties from mandating any “non-wage” benefits for workers, such as paid leave, family leave or sick time, and last week Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed it.  Whether the new law violates a 2006 law passed by citizen initiative, Proposition 202, could be tested in state courts.

Meanwhile, signature gathering continues on petitions for the statewide $12 minimum wage and paid sick time ballot measure.  At least 150,642 valid signatures must be filed by July 8 in order for the measure to qualify for the ballot in November.

Opponents of minimum wage increases elsewhere have been adopting the stealth alternate counter-measure tactic.  They increasingly realize that simply opposing any minimum wage increase is a losing proposition given the overwhelming public support for higher minimum wages.  Their own polling, in fact, shows that 80 percent of business owners and executives favor raising the minimum wage.  Thus, the new bag of tricks, sham proposals, and deceptive alternate measures.

Similar to Arizona, a $10 business-backed measure in Maine designed to derail the $12 state minimum wage initiative that will appear on the November ballot failed last month to garner the votes needed in the legislature.

In Washington State, where voters will decide on a November ballot measure to raise the minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020 and require paid sick leave, business groups are scurrying to put up an alternate measure that would provide a much smaller increase, include a bogus lower “training wage” for up to six months for new hires, and block cities from enacting higher local wages in the future.  And in Colorado, opponents seeking to thwart a likely $12 minimum wage state ballot initiative have filed four separate versions of an alternative measure that would result in smaller increases and a weaker tipped wage.

But voters are increasingly showing that they favor larger rather than smaller increases in minimum wages, as the larger the increase the greater the number of workers directly affected.  Supporters of a $15 minimum wage in Cleveland last week submitted 28,000 signatures, more than five times the number needed to get on the ballot.  Across the country, voters are not likely to prefer the crumbs being offered by industry lobbyists’ sham counter-measures.

A version of this article was published earlier by Newsweek.

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About the Author

Mitchell Hirsch

Areas of expertise:
  • Living Wage & Minimum Wage,
  • Unemployment Insurance

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