Using the Ballot to Raise Wages


The November election may be eight months away, but pro-worker advocates in 10 states are in full swing trying to get initiatives placed on the ballot that would raise the minimum wage all across the country.

Yes, that list includes reliably progressive states such as California, Minnesota and Washington. But it also includes efforts in Alabama, Missouri and South Carolina as well. It seems the people have learned that if they want to have a shot at fair wages, they need to do the leg work themselves.

As Ryan Johnson, executive director of The Fairness Project, wrote about seeking to use ballot measures to increase wages in the Huffington Post last month:

“The ballot initiative process is the last bastion of pure democracy in this country,” he said. “In an increasingly polarized atmosphere full of vitriol, hate, misinformation and moneyed interests, it is the most effective tool left for making real change.”

The use of such measures has become a more sure-fire way to have minimum wage hikes considered at a time when government has become bogged down by partisan wrangling. And it’s proven to work. Even in the wake of the 2014 elections, which were largely devastating for pro-worker candidates, voters in four ruby-red states — Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota — still decided to raise the wage floor?

So it is good to see that everyday Americans are taking democracy in their own hands and attempting to make government in their states accountable to them. Given that 2016 is a presidential election year, turnout is likely to be up which will only help the cause of workers.

Let’s not fool ourselves; no hike in the minimum wage is going to be enough to support a middle-class lifestyle for families. That’s what union jobs do, and it’s why the Teamsters push so hard to organize to bring higher salaries and additional opportunity to workers nationwide. But it is a start.