Next Tuesday, there’s one vote that looks set for a landslide victory. And the winner will be not a candidate but a number: a higher state minimum wage.
You can tell how popular the upcoming state minimum-wage ballot initiatives are from the opposition tactics conservatives are deploying. They breathlessly claim raising the minimum wage will not help a significant number of workers, or in a contradictory argument, insist a minimum-wage boost would drive the state’s economy into ruin. Or they might try to erase it from the ballot altogether, as conservatives in Arkansas did in their lawyerly court battle over the signature-collection process to bring up a referendum for a minimum wage of $8.50 per hour. The state Supreme Court just ruled in favor of ballot campaigners, so now Arkansas will be among four Red-leaning states to offer a minimum-wage initiative, alongside Alaska, Nebraska and South Dakota (weighing proposals for base wages of $9.75, $9 and $8.50, respectively). Illinois will weigh a non-binding proposal for a $10 minimum wage.
Two cities, Oakland and San Francisco will vote to hike the minimum wage to $12.25 and $15, respectively, extending a growing movement for wage reforms at the city level, inspired by Seattle’s trailblazing $15 minimum-wage law.
Pundits see these initiatives as a vote-boosting strategy for Democrats in key races. But advocates focused on economic justice simply see direct democracy as a straightforward way to deal with an issue politicians often ignore.
Paul Sonn of the National Employment Law Project says via e-mail that the issue is not so much boosting turnout as giving people something meaningful to vote for:
Especially at the city level, but in states too, advocates go directly to the voters to raise the minimum wage because that’s an effective way to win more meaningful increases and side-step the effect of money in politics and special interests’ ability to water down legislation.