If you care about workers’ rights, you’ll want to pay attention this November. Key ballot measures have cropped up across the country on topics like minimum wage and convict labor. There are a whopping 160 measures in total up for consideration by the electorate, but sifting through them all to find the critical stuff can be tough.
Fortunately, that’s what we’re here for: We rounded up key labor-related measures to keep an eye on while you’re stressing out about exit polls.
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Arizona voters will be able to decide if they want to implement an incremental minimum wage increase to $12 by 2020. This ballot measure also includes paid sick leave, making it a powerful one-two punch.
While the proposed minimum wage falls below the $15 that had become a rallying cry across the United States, it’s a solid step in the right direction. After 2021, the minimum wage would be adjusted in accordance with the cost of living.
If the measure passes, employees of large businesses will be eligible for up to 40 hours of paid sick leave annually, while small businesses would be required to offer 24. That leave would include not just personal sick time, but also time needed to care for family members and the aftermath of intimate partner violence and sexual assault.
Before you get too excited, know that Arizona will not be making changes to its “wait wage,” which allows employers to pay tipped employees subminimum wage on the grounds that their tips make up the difference.
Like Arizona, Colorado is proposing an incremental minimum wage increase to $12 by 2020, with future adjustments made to reflect rising costs of living — it was historically tied to inflation.
But the amendment comes with a hidden kicker: It also retains the state’s wait wage, though no more than $3.02 in tipped income can be used to replace base hourly pay.
Colorado is a swing state, and voter turnout in support of one or both major party candidates could have a significant impact on the outcome of progressive measures like this one.
Voters in Maine will also be considering an incremental minimum wage increase to $12 by 2020, though future increases will be linked to the consumer price index, rather than cost of living.
The initiative would also phase out the wait wage by 2024. That makes it especially important to watch. Many people aren’t aware of the wait wage, how it works or its effects, so taking it to the voters is a big deal.
4. South Dakota’s Referred Law 20
South Dakota voters will face a tricky situation. Because this is a referendum, not an initiative, the best way to vote may feel counterintuitive.
The vote is a referendum or challenge to SB 177, which lowered the minimum wage for minors from $8.50 to $7.50. Voting “yes” on the initiative is a vote in support of the law, while voting “no” is a vote against it.
People concerned about wage equality would want to vote “no,” even though it feels strange to vote against something with “minimum wage” in its title.
The final minimum wage initiative on the ballot is in the state of Washington, where voters will decide whether they want to raise the minimum wage incrementally to $13.50 by 2020.
Like Arizona, the state will include paid sick leave that covers not just personal illness, but also the necessity to take time off to care for family members.
This amendment to the state’s constitution would make it illegal for employers to require staff to join a union, despite the fact that federal law — the Taft-Hartley Act — actually already offers this protection to employees.
This is known as a “right to work” law, and it carries a sinister clause. Currently, no one is required to join a union, but unions can charge fees because they conduct collective bargaining and offer legal assistance to all employees, not just those in the union.
“Right to work” laws make charging such fees illegal, allowing people to refuse to join unions but enjoy their benefits for free. These laws are anti-union, undermining the strength and negotiating power of union organizers.
In Alabama’s case, they’re also unnecessary. The state already has right to work laws on the books, but passing an amendment would make such legal standing very difficult to roll back.
The situation in Virginia is similar to that in Alabama. It’s already a “right to work” state, but proponents want to enshrine the legislation in the constitution to make it much more difficult to reverse in the future. Legislators have already approved the text of the amendment in question, but they still have to put it to the vote and allow residents of the state to weigh in on the question.
Virginia is also a swing state, and union sympathies among voters could become key to whether this amendment passes.
Currently, the Colorado constitution bans “involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime,” exactly like the Constitution of the United States does. That means that while slavery is illegal, convict labor isn’t — and convict labor is a huge industry in the United States.
This measure would strike that language, making involuntary servitude in any context illegal, and protect Colorado inmates from labor exploitation. The state’s legislature has affirmed its support for the amendment, which requires the consent of voters to be enacted.
If the amendment passes, it could be a critical civil rights victory — and one made all the more timely by the prison strikes spreading across the US, with convicts protesting their living conditions and forced labor.