In the Absence of Federal Action, Some Voters Take Minimum Wage Issue Into Their Own Hands

By Ralph Nader

Americans across the country raptly waited as the results from the presidential election rolled in last night. Some election results that may have flown under the radar, however, were a few ballot measures in Albuquerque, San Jose, and Long Beach that would raise workers’ minimum wage. While the president secured re-election with barely more than 50 percent of the popular vote, each of these ballot measures passed with decisive support — all garnering about 60 percent of the vote.

In San Jose, California, Measure D was placed on the ballot to raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour and automatically adjust it for inflation in subsequent years. It passed with about 59 percent of the vote.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, voters had the opportunity to vote on a ballot measure that would raise the minimum wage in the city one dollar to $8.50 per hour from $7.50. The measure passed with overwhelming support of 66 percent of voters. By comparison, President Obama received just 55 percent of the vote in the same county.

Finally, in Long Beach, California, voters were deciding whether to provide non-unionized hotel workers with a living wage in a ballot measure that would increase their hourly pay to $13 per hour. This measure passed with over 63 percent of the vote.

Since President Obama’s campaign pledge in 2008 to raise the federal minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011, he has been remarkably silent on the issue during the past four years — even in the 2012 campaign which has now come to a close. In the vacuum left by President Obama’s lack of leadership on this issue, members of the 112th Congress proposed legislation to increase the minimum wage. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. proposed a bill in the House of Representatives, the “Catching Up to 1968 Act of 2012” (H.R. 5901), which would have increased the minimum wage to $10 per hour. Not long after, a prodded Congressman George Miller introduced a separate minimum wage bill, the “Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012” (H.R. 6211) in the House that would have increased the minimum wage to $9.80 per hour in three steps by 2014. Senator Harkin earlier this year introduced a companion bill with Congressman Miller’s in the Senate, S. 3453. With a lack of initiative coming from the Democratic leadership in Congress and in the White House, however, none of these bills made it to a vote.

In the absence of federal action on this issue, states and local communities across the country have decided not to wait anymore and are taking up proposals of their own to increase the minimum wage.