Minimum Wage Initiatives win Big Across Country

This year there were six states that had initiatives on the ballot to increase their state minimum wage. And in all six states, voters passed them by wide margins. What is also significant is that the state minimum wages were also indexed to increase as inflation increases.

This is significant because in the past voters or legislatures raised the minimum wage, only to have workers see its value diminish each year as inflation increased living costs. Then the battle would have to be fought all over again.

This happened in Washington State. In 1988 after continued inaction by the Washington State Legislature, a coalition of groups, including the Washington State Labor Council, in 1988 got Initiative 518 passed. It raised the minimum wage to $4.90. Despite repeated attempts in the state legislature this remained the minimum wage for the next 10 years.

So in 1998 Washington citizens again had to file and pass an initiative to raise the minimum wage. But this time the coalition was wiser, not wanting to have to repeat this cycle over and over of going to the legislature and being ignored as inflation increased living costs but the minimum wage stayed the same and then having to run another initiative. This time the initiative was written to index the minimum wage to inflation.

Initiative 668 supporters collected some 288,357 signatures and put the measure on the Nov. 1998 ballot. I-688 overwhelmingly passed with a 66.14% approval to 33.86% disapproval.

Washington State was the first state to pass a minimum wage increase indexed to inflation. Initiative 688 to the people raised the minimum wage from $4.90 to $5.70 in 1999 and then to $6.50 in 2000.

Increases after that were calculated each Sept 30th using the consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers and went into effect Jan 1st of the following year.

This year the minimum wage is $7.63. On Jan 1, 2007 it will increase 30 cents to $7.93.

State Minimum Wage initiatives passing this year:

Arizona ….. $6.75 …….passed… 66% to 34%
Colorado …. $6.85 …….passed… 53% to 47%
Missouri …. $6.50 …….passed… 76% to 24%
Montana ….. $6.15 …….passed… 73% to 27%
Nevada …… $6.15 …….passed… 69% to 31%
Ohio …….. $6.85 …….passed… 56% to 44%

Meanwhile the Federal minimum wage is stuck at $5.15. It has not increased since 1997. Legislation to increase the Federal minimum wage was killed by Republicans in campaign politics earlier this year. The newly elected Democratic majority in Congress has vowed to raise the minimum wage in January.

Current language does not include indexing the minimum wage increase to inflation. Congress needs to do this to be fair to working class families. Their own pay is indexed to inflation.
see cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) increase takes effect annually unless Congress votes to not accept it.”

Write or email or call Congress and urge that they index the minimum wage to inflation. Don’t hold workers hostage to future Congresses. Minimum wage workers deserve better.

previous posts by MajorityRulesBlog:
Senator Cantwell Opposes Republican’s Attempt to cut Washington’s Minimum Wage
US Representatives Reichert, McMorris and Hastings Vote to Cut Washington’s Minimum Wage
for further history and analysis of Washington State’s Minimum Wage also check out the Economic Opportunity Institute’s excellent collection of policy briefs, issue papers, and other links on this issue.

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