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National Restaurant Association - Multiple states see minimum wage ballot drives

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Multiple states see minimum wage ballot drives

Minimum wage is already a hot issue in state legislatures, with 30 states currently considering proposals to raise their state wage. But it looks as if minimum wage, and the minimum cash wage for tipped employees, could also be a top ballot issue in a number of states.

Two states—Alaska and South Dakota—have already agreed to place minimum wage increases on the ballot. Five others—Arkansas, Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan and Missouri—are home to petition drives to place the issue on the 2014 ballots, though supporters of the Missouri measure said recently that they’d seek to put the measure on the ballot through legislation, not petitioning.  Locally, petition drives are being mounted in the California cities of Eureka, Oakland and Richmond.

Putting a measure on the ballot can be challenging, and there’s no guarantee efforts will be successful. States require petitioners to gather a certain number of signatures by a certain date. Michigan, for example, requires nearly 260,000 valid signatures to be filed before May 28 for the measure to be placed on November’s ballot. The ballot initiatives, widely seen as an effort to increase voter turnout in the midterm elections, weren’t unexpected, but they have energized restaurateurs to bring their message of job creation and opportunity to voters.

Wage increase could cost jobs

In Massachusetts, where a ballot effort is underway to raise the state minimum wage to $10.50 from the current $8 and the minimum cash wage for tipped employees to $6.30 from $2.63, restaurant operators are working to educate legislators and the public about both the potential job-killing impact of a minimum wage hike and the earnings of employees who receive tips.

“Our members been energized, and a vigorous grassroots effort to talk about their successful business models for growing jobs has been ongoing,” said Stephen Clark, director of legislative affairs for the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. “Operators across the state are reaching out to elected officials. They're pointing out that tipped employees are among the highest earners in Massachusetts restaurants, with a state wide average of $13.13 per hour and many in the $18-22 per hour range” he said.

In Michigan, activists led by labor unions have recently received approval to begin circulating petitions for a ballot initiative that would increase the state’s minimum wage annually until it reached $10.10 in 2017. The cash wage for tipped employees, currently $2.65, would be increased by 85 cents a year until it equaled the minimum wage. Future increases would be tied to Detroit’s consumer price index.

The increase would hurt job creation in Michigan, which had the highest unemployment rate in the country during the recession, said Justin Winslow, vice president of government affairs for the Michigan Restaurant Association.

“It’s the wrong proposal at the wrong time,” Winslow said. “Despite a massive comeback from a 14 percent to an 8 percent unemployment rate, we’re still at a competitive disadvantage in Michigan.” Restaurateurs and other business groups have been working to educate voters and legislators about the impact a minimum wage increase would have on job creation, Winslow said.

Status of minimum wage ballot petitions

Here’s a rundown of proposed state ballot efforts to increase the minimum wage, with the states’ current minimum wage and minimum cash wage for tipped employees in parentheses.

Alaska ($7.75): Annual increases up to $9.75 on Jan. 1, 2016. Annual cost-of-living adjustment would be based on the federal consumer price index, or $1 over the federal minimum wage—whichever is greater. Status: The measure will appear on ballots in the state’s August 19 primary. 

Arkansas ($6.25):  Annual increases up to $8.50 on Jan. 1, 2017. Status:  62,507 signatures must be submitted July 7 to place the measure on the November ballot.

Idaho ($7.25, $3.35): Annual increases to $9.80 on Jan. 1, 2017. Subsequent annual increases based on state CPI. Minimum cash wage for tipped employees would increase annually, to $5.90 per hour on Jan. 1, 2017. Status:  53,751 signatures must be submitted by April 30.

Massachusetts ($8.00, $2.63): Annual increases up to $10.50 in 2016, with subsequent annual increases tied to inflation. Tipped wage would increase to $6.30 in 2016 and be indexed to inflation. Status:  Supporters have submitted more than the required 68,911 signatures. The petitions have been certified by the secretary of state. If the measure is adopted by the legislature after a hearing, an additional 11,485 signatures will be required to place it on the November ballot.  

Michigan ($7.40, $2.65): Annual increases to $10.10 by 2017, subsequent increases based on inflation. Minimum cash wage for tipped employees would increase by 85 cents annually until it equaled minimum wage. Status: 258,088 signatures must be submitted by May 28 for the measure to appear on the November ballot.

Missouri ($7.50, $3.75): Four separate petitions have been approved for circulation, calling for increasing the minimum wage to $8.40, $8.45, $8.50, and $9.25. All call for the minimum cash wage for tipped employees to be set at 60 percent of the minimum wage and would index future increases to the CPI.  While the petitions have been approved, there‘s no active effort to circulate them for signatures, and supporters of the measure said in senate testimony that they will attempt to have the question placed on the ballot through legislation, not petitions, the Missouri Restaurant Association reports.

South Dakota ($7.25, $2.13): Minimum wage would increase to $8.50 an hour, minimum cash wage for tipped employees to half of the minimum wage. Both would be adjusted annually for inflation. Status: The measure will appear on the November ballot.   

Cities (all in California)

Eureka ($8.00): Minimum wage would increase to $12 for all employers with 25 or more employees. Status: The measure will appear on the November ballot.

Oakland ($8.00): Minimum wage would increase to $12.25, and all workers would be guaranteed five annual sick days.

Richmond ($8.00): The city council is considering proposals for ballot measures to increase the minimum wage to $11, $12.30 or $15 per hour.

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