SAN FRANCISCO - With funding from the United Healthcare Workers union (UHW) in California, The Fairness Project was launched today to help raise the minimum wage through ballot initiatives in states, cities and counties across the nation. UHW is a local of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Even though some 35 million working Americans are living in poverty, Congress and most state legislatures have failed to do anything about raising the minimum wage. However, 24 states and many more cities and counties allow voters themselves to put issues on the ballot if they get the required number of signatures to do so.
At the press conference announcing the launch of The Fairness Project, Executive Director Ryan Johnson said the organization will start by supporting already existing ballot initiative campaigns in Maine, California and the city of Washington, D.C.
In all three places, community groups are working hard to collect enough signatures to put on the ballot the question of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, with automatic increases tied to the cost of living.
What's more, the initiatives also include measures that would eliminate the subminimum wage. This is the minimum wage employers are allowed to pay workers who receive tips from customers. Originally, the federal tipped worker minimum wage was 60 percent of the full minimum wage. However, it was frozen at $2.13 per hour in 1991, which today equals about 30 percent of the full minimum wage.
Local ballot initiatives have been a powerful tool for raising state minimum wages.
According to the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, minimum wage measures have been tried 20 times in 16 states since 1996. All but two were successful.
Last year alone, worker advocates used ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage in Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska and South Dakota. It would have been impossible to raise the minimum wage in those states through their legislatures, given their political composition.
However, voters strongly supported the measures.
In fact, voters across the U.S. strongly support raising the minimum wage. Polls show that 75 percent of Americans think it should be done.
The Fairness Project will help the campaigns in Maine, California and D.C. by providing sophisticated polling and data collection, help with computerized fund raising and help with creating websites and social media.
Most important, the Project will work to make sure that raising the minimum wage remains a front and center issue during the upcoming elections.
Supporting The Fairness Project "is the best value in American politics," says UHW-SEIU President Dave Regan. "[We aim to] put a question in front of half the country that simply can't be moved through legislatures because of big money in politics."
Photo: Demonstrators rally for a $15 minimum wage before a meeting of the state Wage Board in New York. | Seth Wenig/AP