Voters Overwhelmingly Choose To Raise Wages in Two Red States

Michael Arria November 7, 2018

A Missouri business owner holds a sign in support of Prop B, which raised the minimum wage for more than 600,000 workers. (Photo from Raise Up Missouri)

On Tues­day, Arkansas vot­ers over­whelm­ing­ly approved Issue 5, a bal­lot mea­sure that will raise the state’s min­i­mum wage from $8.50 to $11 by 2021. The vote is expect­ed to raise wages for some 300,000 work­ers through­out the state. The mea­sure received a stag­ger­ing 68 per­cent of the vote in a state that Trump car­ried by more than 60 per­cent in 2016.

Arkansas wasn’t the only red state where work­ers saw a win last night. Missouri’s Propo­si­tion B, which will raise the state’s min­i­mum wage from $7.85 to $12 by 2023, passed with 62 per­cent of the vote. The mea­sure will lift pay for more than 600,000 work­ers. Missouri’s wage hike comes just three months after its elec­torate over­whelm­ing­ly reject­ed a right-to-work law at the bal­lot box.

These labor vic­to­ries come on the heels of last year’s teacher strikes, which rocked a num­ber of GOP-con­trolled states. But Negin Owli­aei, an inequal­i­ty researcher at the Insti­tute for Pol­i­cy Stud­ies, tells In These Times that bal­lot ini­tia­tives to raise wages have been yield­ing results for years. She point­ed to Arkansas’ 2014 wage-hike, which took place in a much dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal cli­mate. We see this in red states, but also blue states and pur­ple states’ like Col­orado,” she says. Work­ers through­out the coun­try feel like they’ve been sold a bill of goods.”

Missouri’s Repub­li­can leg­is­la­ture has reject­ed pro­pos­als to increase the min­i­mum wage every year since 2014, lead­ing vot­ers to raise the min­i­mum wage two years ago through a sim­i­lar bal­lot ini­tia­tive, and again on Tues­day. Owli­aei says these polit­i­cal real­i­ties are one of the rea­sons that these bal­lot ques­tions have become nec­es­sary. These aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly always the most effec­tive meth­ods for rais­ing the wage,” she says, but it’s the way things have to be.”

The effort to put Propo­si­tion B on the bal­lot was led by Raise Up Mis­souri, a group that secured large dona­tions from the the social wel­fare orga­ni­za­tion Six­teen Thir­ty Fund and the Black Pro­gres­sive Action Coali­tion. The mea­sure was also backed by a num­ber of labor groups, includ­ing the SEIU, Jobs with Jus­tice and the AFL-CIO. They were opposed not only by the state’s leg­is­la­ture, but also by Missouri’s Cham­ber of Com­merce and Asso­ci­at­ed Indus­tries of Mis­souri, the state’s old­est busi­ness association.

In Arkansas, Issue 5 got a boost from the Fair­ness Project, a pro­gres­sive DC-based orga­ni­za­tion that coor­di­nates with local groups to push eco­nom­ic bal­lot ini­tia­tives. The local fight was led by Arkansans for a Fair Wage, in part­ner­ship with a num­ber of labor groups (includ­ing the AAUW of Arkansas and AFSCME Local 965) and local businesses.

Arkansas activists fought a gru­el­ing uphill bat­tle. After secur­ing over 84,000 sig­na­tures, they had to go up against Attor­ney Gen­er­al Leslie Rut­ledge, who had refused to cer­ti­fy any of the 70 pro­posed bal­lot pro­pos­als sent to her over the last two years. Rut­ledge was ulti­mate­ly ordered to take action by the state’s Supreme Court.

Arkansas’ bal­lot ques­tion pre­dictably faced strong oppo­si­tion from local cor­po­rate inter­ests, includ­ing a pro-busi­ness group called Arkansans for a Strong Econ­o­my that sued in an attempt to keep it from reach­ing the bal­lot. That group is led by Randy Zook, head of the Arkansas State Cham­ber of Com­merce, the lob­by for big busi­ness in the state. Zook’s com­mit­tee claimed that the can­vassers’ sig­na­tures con­tained a mul­ti­tude of errors and shouldn’t have been val­i­dat­ed by the state. A state­ment put out by the orga­ni­za­tion to coin­cide with the law­suit quotes Mon­tine McNul­ty, the CEO of the Arkansas Hos­pi­tal­i­ty Asso­ci­a­tion. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, a manda­to­ry increase like the one pro­posed may wind up cost­ing jobs, increas­ing prices, or result­ing in reduced hours for work­ers, as many of our small busi­ness own­ers will strug­gle to stay afloat,” McNul­ty said. The law­suit was reject­ed by the Arkansas Supreme Court last month.

The Arkansans for a Strong Econ­o­my state­ment makes no men­tion of the fact that the state vot­ed to grad­u­al­ly raise the min­i­mum wage as recent­ly as 2014. Accord­ing to a study by the Nation­al Employ­ment Law Project (NELP), that vote led to strong eco­nom­ic growth for Arkansas and the state’s low­est unem­ploy­ment rate since the U.S. Depart­ment of Labor began its state unem­ploy­ment data series in 1976. Arkansas’ expe­ri­ence con­firms the more than 25 years of exten­sive eco­nom­ic research over­whelm­ing­ly con­clud­ing that states can increase their min­i­mum wage with­out reduc­ing employ­ment,” the study reports.

The NELP has also pub­lished a study on Issue 5’s poten­tial eco­nom­ic impact. It esti­mates that last night’s vote will mean a raise for almost 1 out of every 4 work­ers in Arkansas. In 26 Arkansas coun­ties, 30 per­cent of the work­force will see a pay increase. All of those coun­ties are out­side of the state’s biggest cities, which means that some of Tues­day night’s biggest win­ners are the res­i­dents of the state’s small towns and rur­al communities.

Despite its huge mar­gin of vic­to­ry, the momen­tum of Issue 5 seem­ing­ly didn’t do much to shift Arkansas’ polit­i­cal land­scape. Democ­rats were most opti­mistic about the state’s 2nd con­gres­sion­al dis­trict where the incum­bent Repub­li­can French Hill faced Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lenger Clarke Tuck­er. Hill opposed rais­ing the min­i­mum wage in 2014 and opposed Issue 5. As I have said in the past, I do not sup­port rais­ing the min­i­mum wage,”said Hill in a recent state­ment, Rais­ing the min­i­mum wage costs jobs and oppor­tu­ni­ties to start a career, par­tic­u­lar­ly for those enter­ing the work­force or try­ing to get their first job.” Hill won his elec­tion with more than 50 per­cent of the vote. Arkansas’ GOP Gov­er­nor Asa Hutchin­son (who called the hike a job killer”) also cruised through an easy reelec­tion. It remains to be seen what actions the state’s con­ser­v­a­tive law­mak­ers might take to impede the grad­ual hike.

Cur­rent­ly, Arkansas’s min­i­mum wage is sched­uled to be lift­ed from $8.50 to $9.25 an hour in 2019; $10 an hour in 2020, and to $11 an hour in 2021. Missouri’s is set to go from $7.85 to It will then increase by 85 cents every year there­after until it hits $12 in 2023. Accord­ing to stud­ies, the major­i­ty of the rais­es will go to women. Low-wage work­ers in Arkansas will make $400 mil­lion in addi­tion­al wages and Mis­souri work­ers will see an increase of $870 million.

Michael Arria is the U.S. cor­re­spon­dent for Mon­doweiss. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @michaelarria.
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