Big Victories for Minimum Wage Advocates in November Elections

Most Americans know that the Republicans rode a victory wave on November 4th, winning control of the Senate by a substantial margin; increasing gains in the house; and winning more Governorships than Democrats.

But we’d like to draw your attention to another, also profound “breaking wave.” Voters in South Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Alaska all passed measures to increase the minimum wage. The California cities of Oakland and San Francisco also passed minimum wage increases.

Since 2009, the national minimum wage has been stagnant at $7.25, prompting much consternation from labor advocates. While the elections didn’t touch the federal number, they did illustrate that the electorate – in “red” and “blue” states alike – appears to be hungry for change with respect to minimum wage rules.

The National Employment Law Project’s (NELP) Tsedeye Gebreselassie shared her glee with the New York Times: “I can’t stress how popular of an issue [the minimum wage] is among voters, regardless of political affiliation.” Illinois and Wisconsin also said Yes to measures that will require lawmakers to raise wages for over a million workers in those states.

Interestingly, the wage hikes passed in deep “red” states, including Arkansas, South Dakota, and Alaska. They even attracted the support of many prominent Republicans. For instance, in Alaska, the major GOP candidates up for election all backed the minimum wage measure.

Curiously, though, politicians who oppose minimum wage increases do not always pay a price with the electorate. In 2013, for instance, voters in New Jersey passed a hike to that state’s minimum wage by 60 percent… but they also reelected Governor Christie, who had opposed that hike, by a similarly wide margin.

The question is: will these minimum wage victories presage more successes for reformers?

One economic analysis suggests that, if the federal government suddenly raises the minimum wage to $10.10, 500,000 job losses would ensue, but 16 million to 24 million workers would get substantially more money. On balance, how would such changes impact the economy?

We’ll talk more in depth about this issue in our next post. For now, if you need assistance regarding a wage and hour, tip pool violation, harassment, discrimination, or retaliation case, please call (212) 688-5640, or email info@jhllp.com to speak with an experienced, qualified New York employment lawyer with Joseph & Kirschenbaum.