News & Commentary

November 4, 2014

This post is part of an ongoing of series on the fast food organizing movement. You can read all our Fast Food News here.

Today is Election Day, and in five states and several cities the focus is on ballot measures that would increase in the minimum wage for hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers – including thousands of fast food workers.

According to FiveThirtyEight, Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota all have ballot initiatives proposing an increase in the states’ minimum wages. Four of the initiatives would be binding; in Illinois, the ballot measure is only advisory. If all give initiatives were to pass – and the Illinois legislature acted in accordance with the vote – roughly 680,000 workers would see a pay raise. The median age of these workers is 28, with two-thirds being females and a quarter raising at lease one child. However, there is great variation amongst the impact in each individual state. For Instance, 593,000 of those workers would hail from Illinois alone, which is proposing the highest wage of $10 per hour, up from $8.25. The remaining states would be keeping their wages at or below $9 an hour, and between 8,000 and 33,000 workers would be directly affected per state. Leading up to today’s vote, the Huffington Post reports that recent polls show strong support for the minimum wage ballot initiatives in each of the four Republican-controlled states. According to HuffPo, the last time there were this many minimum wage ballot initiatives was in 2006, where Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Ohio all voted to increase their minimum wage.

It was after this wave of minimum wage increases, per the Washington Post, that Congress last increased the federal minimum wage in 2007, as 29 states and the District of Columbia then guaranteed higher minimum wages than the federal rate of $5.15. As the national rate then gradually increased from $5.85 to $6.55 to $7.25 in the summer of 2009, the number of states requiring a higher minimum than the federal government fell to a minority of states. This now seems poised to change, as all four of these statewide measures are likely to pass, meaning a majority of states – 27 states and the District of Columbia – will once again have higher minimum wage floors than the federal minimum.

Potential increases in the minimum wage are not limited to the states today, as both San Francisco and Oakland will vote on whether to increase their wages to $15 an hour and $12.25 an hour respectively. San Francisco’s minimum wage is currently $10.74 an hour, but today’s vote would make the city, along with Seattle, the second to pay the highest rate in the nation at $15 an hour. CNN reports that roughly 142,000 workers, or 23% of San Francisco’s workforce, would receive a pay raise by 2018 – the year the $15 minimum becomes mandatory if the law passes, according to a study by researchers at University of California, Berkeley. In Oakland, the minimum wage increase would also require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees, allowing workers to accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.

Today’s vote for an increased minimum wage in these five states and two major cities come after ten states have already increased their respective minimum wages this year. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel argues that while prospects are bleak for progressives and the national Democratic Party, today’s election in fact may represent “the year some of America got a raise.” According to vanden Heuvel, no issue has been as prominent or had as much support as increasing the minimum wage, a movement in large part spurred by fast-food workers nationwide. In the four conservative-leaning states with minimum wage increases on the ballot – Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska, and South Dakota – it looks as though Republican candidates will emerge victorious, but voters in all four of these states will also pass an increased minimum wage.

As these states and cities vote on increasing wages, the Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. employers’ compensation costs grew in the second and third quarters at their fastest pace since 2008, the Labor Department said Friday, a sign that worker pay may have begun to finally increase at an accelerated rate. Panera Bread Co-CEO Ron Shaich says that the company is beginning to feel increasing wage pressure in finding talent, particularly for managers, as unemployment declines and minimum wage increases. However, not all commentators believe a substantial rise in wages is underway, as several staffing and recruiting firms argue that they continue to see little to no wage increases across all industries, regions and skill sets.

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