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Minimum Wage Raises and Paid Sick Leave Triumph in Midterm Elections

November 10, 2014

Voters in several states and cities cast ballots in favor of minimum wage increases and mandatory paid sick days for workers during the midterm elections on November 4.

Minimum wage increases passed in all four states in which they were on the ballot: Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

Meanwhile, workers in Massachusetts will be guaranteed paid sick leave starting next July.

Minimum Wage

Alaska’s minimum wage will be one of the highest in the country when it takes full effect in 2017. The minimum wage will go up to $9.50 and will be indexed to inflation.

South Dakota’s new minimum wage of $8.50 will also be tied to inflation; it takes effect on January 1. In Arkansas, the minimum wage will reach $8.50 in 2017, while Nebraska’s minimum wage will go up to $9 an hour in 2016.

Direct-care workers, many of whom earn poverty-level wages, stand to benefit from the minimum wage increase. In Arkansas, for example, home health aides and personal care aides earned median wages of just $8.59 and $8.65, respectively, in 2013.

Home care workers will finally be protected by federal minimum wage law beginning in 2015. For decades, they had been carved of the protection by the Fair Labor Standards Act‘s “companionship exemption.”

Additionally, midterm voters in Illinois and Wisconsin passed nonbinding resolutions calling on their state legislatures to raise their minimum wages. Illinois’ minimum wage is currently $8.25 an hour, while Wisconsin’s is $7.25, the same as the federal rate.

The cities of Oakland and San Francisco also passed increases: Oakland’s minimum wage will reach $12.25 by March 2015, and San Francisco will raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018.

Earlier this year, Seattle became the first municipality to enact a $15/hour minimum wage law.

Paid Sick Leave

Voters also showed their support for paid sick leave in Massachusetts and in several cities.

Massachusetts became the third state, after Connecticut and California, to mandate paid sick days for workers. The ballot initiative passed by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent.

Similar initiatives passed in Oakland and in two New Jersey cities: Trenton and Montclair. According to the organization Family Values @ Work, 16 cities have now passed laws guaranteeing paid sick leave, including 10 in 2014 alone.

An estimated 80 percent of low-income workers — a category that includes most direct-care workers — do not get paid sick days.

— by Matthew Ozga

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