Before the election, we talked about minimum wage and paid sick leave initiatives on the rise, including some important ballot issues. With most of the results tallied, it appears that the Republicans weren’t the only big winners in the 2014 midterm elections last night. While the GOP retaking the Senate majority and reaching historic majority margins in the House garnered most of the national headlines, if you look just below the fold, minimum wage and paid sick leave initiatives were the other big winners of the night. Voters approved all five ballot statewide ballot questions on the minimum wage last night. Massachusetts voters broadly approved a paid sick leave referendum in that state, joined by voters in three New Jersey and California cities.
Minimum Wage Initiatives Win Overwhelmingly
In fact, voters overwhelmingly approved the five big statewide minimum wage initiatives. In Arkansas, a measure to raise the state minimum to $8.50 an hour by 2017 won by 31 percentage points. Nebraska voters approved Initiative 425 to increase the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour by 2016 by nearly 20 points. South Dakota’s Initiated Measure 18, which raises the minimum wage in that state to $8.50 an hour by 2015, passed by almost 10 points. By over 2-to-1, Alaska voters approved a hike in that state’s minimum wage to $9.75 an hour by 2016. Illinois voters elected Republican Bruce Rauner, who did not support a minimum wage hike, over Democrat Pat Quinn, who did support one, but nonetheless overwhelmingly approved a non-binding advisory referendum to raise the minimum wage to $10.00 by a similar 2-to-1 margin.
At the municipal level, minimum wage initiatives had mixed results. In the Bay Area, both San Francisco ($15.00) and Oakland ($12.50) easily approved their increases. Further north, Eureka, California voted down an increase by a wide margin.
Massachusetts, Other Cities Approve Paid Sick Leave for Employees
On Tuesday, Massachusetts became the third state, joining California and Connecticut, to guarantee paid sick leave for workers. Voters decisively approved Question 4 by a 60% to 40% margin.
Massachusetts employers with more than 10 workers will have to provide their workers with one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work, to be capped at 40 hours of leave for the year, starting on July 15, 2015. Massachusetts employers with 10 or fewer workers will still have to provide the accumulated sick leave though will be exempt from offering it on a paid basis. The new law permits workers to use paid sick leave when they’re sick or need to tend to a medical condition, or when doing the same for a spouse, child, or parent. The measure also contains anti-retaliation provisions that forbid employers from punishing workers for taking sick leave under the law.
As mentioned above, Oakland voted to raise that city’s minimum wage. Additionally, that minimum wage initiative increased the paid sick leave benefit available to workers in that city. Oakland employees will earn at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours on the job with a cap of 40 or 72 hours, depending on the size of the business. Oakland’s initiative is more generous than the State of California’s new paid sick leave law, which only provides workers a minimum of 24 hours, or three normal work days, of paid sick time per year. New Jersey voters in Montclair and Trenton also backed paid sick leave initiatives, becoming the seventh and eighth cities in the state to approve those benefits.
No matter the results higher up the ballot, strong popular support for populist initiatives like minimum wage increases or paid sick leave is not surprising. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), over the past decade most state ballot measures to raise the minimum wage have passed by wide margins, in many cases by more than 2-to-1. In 2006 alone, state initiatives to raise the minimum wage passed by large majorities in Arizona (65.6%), Missouri (75.6%), Montana (74.2%), Nevada (68.4%), and Ohio (56.5%) according to the NCSL’s report. Even in the face of opposition from Governor Chris Christie, New Jersey voters approved a 2013 ballot initiative to raise the state minimum to $8.25 by more than 60%.
More of these initiatives are on the horizon. Both Philadelphia and Chicago will consider minimum wage increases in spring 2015 elections, the New Jersey legislature has advanced a paid sick leave bill, and a number of other cities and towns are considering both minimum wage and paid sick leave initiatives as well.