Shreveport In looking at the results on the minimum wage ballot vote, particularly in New Jersey, President Obama spoke out again about his support for a minimum wage increase federally from the current $7.25 in a series of steps to $10.10 per hour. He wasn’t the only one speaking out on the need to increase the minimum wage, though on the near term he may be the only one who believes that it will be driven by action in Washington, while the rest of us believe the pressure will come from states and communities, tired of waiting, and moving into action now.
In that vein after reading my blog calling for a movement at all levels to increase the minimum wage, I heard from two longtime, experienced labor and community organizers yesterday who reported on major efforts already underway in Massachusetts and Wisconsin.
Mike Gallagher, a longtime comrade and friend from Jamaica Plains in Boston, sent me the following which seems to position Massachusetts at the top of the list both on the minimum wage and paid sick leave:
Here in Massachusetts a campaign spearheaded by Lew Finfer’s MCAN network, SEIU and some 70 other organizations is closing in on the goal of collecting 229,000 signatures to put two questions on the 2014 ballot — a minimum wage increase to $9.25 then $10.50 a year later then indexed thereafter and a requirement that employers of 10 or more provide up to 40 hours of paid sick time annually. On election day this past Tuesday we brought in over 40,000 sigs in one day to put us over 200,000. We actually only need 69,000 certified signatures for each measure, but we want to be sure we have enuf. Two weeks left to go. The current MA minimum is $8.25. It has not been raised since 2008. The census statistics say that 580,000 MA workers are at the minimum. About 1.1 million MA workers have no paid sick days at all. Our Democratic legislature has refused to act on either measure. Gov Patrick is useless too. If we put these questions in front of the voters, we will win as ACORN showed us in six states (some of them red or even very red) in 2004. As far as I know, a minimum wage increase has never lost at the ballot box. Our own polls show minimum wage at 72% favorable; sick days even higher at 83%.
Unfortunately, when ACORN first moved forward on this strategy 15 years ago in Houston and Denver in 1998, we reached for too high a number on the increases, and lost by 2-1 margins on local initiatives in those cities carrying only our own turf, prompting the state by state legislative push by the National Restaurant Association and their allies to strip municipalities in many Texas, Florida, Louisiana and a number of other states from being able to initiative wage increases at the ballot. We also lost our first statewide minimum wage ballot initiative in Missouri, before finally getting all of the pieces together and winning consistently thereafter. The closeness of the SeaTac vote compared to the New Jersey numbers continues to warn, as we found in our own work, that flying too high in the sky can still lead to a very hard fall if opponents can link a too drastic wage hike to fear of job losses.
Nonetheless, the Massachusetts effort is in great hands, and even the numbers seem almost modest compared to Obama’s own federal target. It is also good to hear that people are using the tactic that we first developed in the New Orleans living wage fight and then perfected subsequently of getting these petitions signed on Election Days, since the accuracy jumps to almost 100% knowing that the voters at the polling places are already registered.
Peter Rickman, who has been at the center of a lot of progressive organizing in Wisconsin in recent years, also weighed in on emerging efforts that are building up from the ground there…
“…next generation living wage campaign thing — working to pass county and city ordinances in Milwaukee, before going on to Madison, and then smaller cities around the state. The County fight is legislative, and we should win after a big fight on it, probably in December or January. For the City, we’re going to take it to the ballot for a binding initiative in the fall of 2014… As that’s happening, we’ll [also] put something together for Madison at the City and County level.
Peter also mentions that there is a lot of discussion about putting “advisory referenda” on the ballot statewide on wage issues, which is very exciting as well.
There needs to be a movement across the country on raising wages, and you get the feeling it’s already being built!