Recent Successes in the Minimum Wage Fight
By Leah Scrivener
Photo Credit: Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy
The federal minimum wage has remained stagnant at $7.25 per hour since 2009. President Obama had promised to raise it to $9.50 by 2011. November’s elections saw several important local successes in the fight for an increased minimum wage, as voters in Albuquerque, San Jose, and Long Beach pushed forward measures that will have a positive impact on low-wage workers in those communities.
Albuquerque, New Mexico took great strides that will have a positive impact on low-wage workers. The Albuquerque Minimum Wage Campaign succeeded in organizing 66% of voters to raise the minimum wage by $1 (from $7.50 to $8.50), and also increase the tipped minimum wage from $2.13 to over $5 (the first increase of its kind since 1991). Also significant is the fact that the ballot will tie the minimum wage to inflation, meaning that workers’ wages will rise with the cost of living each year (the minimum wage functions this way in Arizona and Colorado as well).
In San Jose, California, 59% of voters approved a measure to set the city’s minimum wage at $10, which will be $2 more than the California state-wide wage floor of $8. This measure makes San Jose one of the few cities in the United States to set its own wage floor, along with San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Santa Fe, and Albuquerque.
Finally, in Long Beach, California, 63% of voters favored a “living wage ballot initiative,” measure that would increase the minimum wage for workers in non-unionized Long Beach hotels. It will require non-unionized hotels with more than 100 rooms to pay all workers at least $13 an hour and to give a minimum of five paid sick days.
These successes provide insight into how to tackle future struggles. For Ralph Nader, these important victories reveal that “in the absence of federal action on this issue, states and local communities across the country have decided not to wait anymore and are taking up proposals of their own to increase the minimum wage.”
The trend of pushing forward changes at the local level could signal the possibility of more minimum wage increases at the county level, state level, or federal levels.