Victory for Workers as Voters Approve Minimum Wage Raises in Albuquerque, San Jose, and Long Beach
Ballot proposals in three cities pass with strong public support despite well-funded opposition from corporate interests
Washington, DC – Thousands of the lowest-paid workers in Albuquerque, San Jose, and Long Beach will receive pay increases after voters on Tuesday approved ballot proposals that will raise the minimum wage for workers in each city. Citywide minimum wage increases passed in Albuquerque, with 66 percent support, and in San Jose, with 59 percent support, while 63 percent of Long Beach voters approved an ordinance establishing a higher minimum wage for hotel workers in the city.
“This is a major victory for workers in Albuquerque, San Jose, and Long Beach,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “With growing numbers of working families relying on low-wage jobs to make ends meet, the voters recognize that raising the minimum wage fulfills our basic obligation to ensure that work provides a path out of poverty. Higher wages for the lowest-paid workers in our economy will promote upward economic mobility and help accelerate the post-recession recovery.”
Albuquerque’s minimum wage will rise from $7.50 to $8.50 per hour in January 2013, and will automatically adjust in future years to keep up with the rising cost of living. The nonpartisan New Mexico Voices for Children estimates that 40,000 workers – one-seventh of Albuquerque’s total workforce – will see their paychecks rise as a result of this increase. The boost in wages is projected to generate $18 million in new consumer spending and support the creation of 160 new jobs as businesses expand to meet the increased demand.
In San Jose, the citywide minimum wage will rise from $8 per hour, the current minimum wage in California, to $10 per hour, and it will also adjust automatically in future years to keep pace with the rising cost of living. A report published in October by the University of California–Berkeley estimates that over 69,000 workers, or 18.9 percent of San Jose’s workforce, will receive pay increases after the city’s minimum wage rises to $10 per hour. According to the Berkeley report, this wage increase will boost consumer spending by $190 million and support the creation of 200 new full-time jobs.
The Long Beach ballot measure raises the minimum wage for hotel workers to $13 per hour and guarantees these workers five paid sick days per year. The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy estimates that the City of Long Beach has invested $750 million in the hospitality industry since the early 1980s – including an estimated $114 million in direct assistance to hotels – yet wages in this sector average only $10 per hour, or roughly half the median salary of $48 thousand per year in Long Beach.
Corporate-backed interest groups and major hotel chains mobilized well-funded opposition campaigns seeking to block each of these proposals. In Albuquerque, a coalition of business groups lobbied Albuquerque city officials to refuse to place the measure on the ballot, forcing its supporters to go to court. The New Mexico Supreme Court ultimately rejected efforts to block the proposal and in September ordered the city to place the minimum wage increase on the ballot.
When ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage reach the voters, they have in almost all cases been approved by substantial majorities. In 2004 and 2006, voters in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, and Ohio all passed initiatives to raise the minimum wage, adjust it each year based on the cost of living, and raise the wage for tipped employees.
Albuquerque enacted its current $7.50 per hour city minimum wage in 2006. Santa Fe, New Mexico enacted a city minimum wage in 2003, which is currently $10.29. San Francisco, California voters approved a city minimum wage in 2003, which will be $10.55 in January.
As cities throughout the U.S. move to raise pay for low-wage workers, federal lawmakers have taken parallel action this year to increase the federal minimum wage, which has remained at $7.25 per hour for the past three years. In July, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin and Representative George Miller introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $9.80 per hour by 2014, raise the minimum wage for tipped workers to 70 percent of the full minimum wage, and index the minimum wage to rise automatically with the cost of living.
A national poll conducted in February 2012 found that nearly three in four likely voters (73 percent) in the U.S. support increasing the minimum wage to $10 per hour and indexing it to inflation. In 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama pledged to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011.
A recent report by the National Employment Law Project found that 66 percent of low-wage employees work for large companies, not small businesses, and that more than 70 percent of the biggest low-wage employers have fully recovered from the recession and are enjoying strong profits. An August NELP study showed that while the majority of jobs lost during the recession were in middle-wage occupations, 58 percent of those created in the post-recession recovery have been low-wage occupations. That shift towards low-wage jobs is a 30-year trend that is only accelerating, according to a recent report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting low-wage and unemployed workers. For more about NELP, visit www.nelp.org or www.raisetheminimumwage.org.