AZ Supreme Court backs voters on raising minimum wage

The Arizona Supreme Court on March 14 upheld the state’s new minimum wage and paid sick leave law by  unanimously rejecting a lawsuit filed by the law’s opponents.

The new law, which took effect in January, raises the state’s minimum wage from $8.05 an hour to $10 an hour. More raises will follow until the minimum wage reaches $12 an hour in 2020. After that, future raises will be tied to increases in the cost of living.

The new law also requires businesses to give employees at least three paid sick days a year.

Because of the new law, more than 800,000 of Arizona’s 2.5 million workers will get pay raises by 2020.

Arizona voters in November voted in a statewide referendum on the Fair Wages and Health Families Initiative, or Proposition 2016, which called for raising the state’s minimum wage and providing paid sick leave to all workers.

58 percent of them voted “yes” for Proposition 206.

Despite Proposition 206’s widespread support among voters, right wing groups led by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry filed suit to block implementation of the law.

After hearing that the court had rejected the chamber’s suit, supporters of the Proposition 206 held a media conference where they welcomed the good news.

“We’re so very happy that the Arizona Supreme Court decided for the will of the voters and not for special interests,” said Tomas Robles, executive director of  Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), which organized the campaign that got Proposition 206 on the ballot and the eventual referendum victory.

The successful campaign began more than a year ago, said Alejandra Gomez, co-director of LUCHA.

“We started this battle over a year ago, and were able to show that when the community comes together we can have a victory,” said Gomez. “We came together. We collected signatures on petitions. We talked to thousands of voters to let them know that this referendum would mean a pay increase in their salaries.”

The first step toward getting the Fair Wages and Healthy Families Initiative on the ballot was to gather 150,642 signatures of registered voters on a ballot petition.

Supporters of the initiative gathered 271,000 signatures.

The petitions were submitted in July to the secretary of state, who reviewed the petitions, determined that there were enough valid  signatures, and added the initiative to the November ballot.

LUCHA organized its members and supporters to knock on doors and talk directly to voters about raising the minimum wage and providing paid sick days to all workers.

The effort to win voter support also included direct mailings, television ads, and a digital media campaign.

The Chamber of Commerce tried twice to keep the initiative off the ballot.

In August a trial judge rejected the chamber’s suit to deny voters the opportunity to vote on the initiative. Two weeks later, the state Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision by rejecting the chamber’s appeal.

When voters went to the polls in November, they overwhelmingly supported Proposition 206.

It garnered 1,195,027 votes, more than Sen. John McCain (1,089,324 votes), who won the state’s US Senate race, and Donald Trump ( 1,021,154 votes) who won the state’s presidential electoral college vote.

The new minimum wage increase means that workers like Rosa Maria Padilla received big pay raises in January, some by as much as $1.95 an hour.

Padilla is a care giver to the elderly and to children with special needs.

“In December the company that I work for told us that we would be getting a pay raise thanks to Proposition 206,” said Padilla in Spanish through a translator.

Padilla, a member of LUCHA, added that the fight for a fair and livable wage isn’t over.

LUCHA and other worker groups will continue to fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage.

“This won’t be the last we hear about raising the minimum wage,” said Padilla. “We’re going to keep fighting.”

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