Voters in three US cities approved ballot proposals on Election Day to increase the local minimum wage well above the federal minimum wage. “This was a major victory for workers in Albuquerque, San Jose, and Long Beach (California),” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, which provided assistance to supporters of the minimum wage increase campaigns.
“With growing numbers of working families relying on low-wage jobs to make ends meet, the voters recognize that raising the minimum wage fulfills our basic obligation to ensure that work provides a path out of poverty,” added Owens. “Higher wages for the lowest-paid workers in our economy will promote and help accelerate the post-recession recovery.”
In Albuquerque, the minimum wage increases from $7.50 an hour to $8.50 an hour, and it increases as the cost of living increases. Tipped workers, whose minimum wage is now $2.13 an hour will see their minimum wage increase to 60 percent of the minimum wage.
In Long Beach, the minimum wage increase affects only hotel workers. The city has invested heavily, and with some success, in the tourism industry, but while hotel corporations have profited from the investment, their workers have been left behind.
The new city ordinance approved by 63.2 percent of the voters raises the minimum wage for hotel workers to $13 an hour and requires owners to give hotel employees at least five sick days a year.
In San Jose, Measure D, the ballot proposal that increased the local minimum wage from $8 an hour to $10 an hour, was approved by 59 percent of the voters. Measure D also ties future minimum wage increases to increases in the cost of living.
Organized labor played a key role in winning these minimum wage increases. The San Jose initiative began as a project of sociology students at San Jose State University that quickly won the support of the South Bay Central Labor Council.
The labor council helped organize the Raise the Wage San Jose coalition, which included the local NAACP chapter, Pride @ Work, Sacred Heart Community Services, Campus Alliance for Justice, and other community, student, and labor groups. The coalition led a petition gathering drive that succeeded in putting Measure D on the November ballot.
Opponents of the Measure D including the Chamber of Commerce, owners of restaurants and hotels, and Mayor Chuck Reed, argued that raising the minimum wage would cost many low-paid workers their jobs and hurt small businesses.
But a report issued in October by Dr. Michael Reich, an economist and director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California at Berkeley, found that raising the minimum wage to $10 in San Jose would increase operating costs of low-wage businesses by less than 0.25 percent and raise restaurant prices by only 0.71 percent.
At the same time, 69,000 workers, or 18.9 percent of the San Jose workforce, would receive a pay raise that would increase consumer spending by $190 million, and create 200 new jobs.
Cindy Chavez, executive officer of the South Bay Central Labor Council, praised the passage of Measure D and the students who initiated the campaign. “This is a victory for tens of thousands of hard working San Jose residents,” Chavez said. “The students who took on this challenge should be extremely proud of themselves for standing up for what’s right.”
The Albuquerque initiative, which won the support of 66 percent of the voters, was also the result of a grassroots effort. Working America, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, the Progressive Voter Alliance of Central New Mexico; Albuquerque Interfaith; and the Organizers in the Land of Enchantment joined together to gather enough petition signatures to get the minimum wage initiative on the ballot and to educate and mobilize voters to support the initiative.
Albuquerque is the second city in New Mexico to increase the local minimum wage above the federal minimum wage. Santa Fe did so in 2003 and at the time, tied future minimum wage increases to increases in the cost of living. The current minimum wage in Santa Fe is $10.29 an hour.
Opponents of Santa Fe’s minimum wage increase warned that raising the minimum wage would lead to layoffs and job losses, especially in the city’s tourism industry, the city’s main economic driver. But Santa Fe’s current unemployment rate is 5.8 percent, one of the lowest rates in New Mexico and well below the national rate of 7.9 percent.