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Who we are
Alaskans for a Fair Minimum Wage (AFMW) was founded in March of 2013 by three former Alaska state Labor Commissioners—Ed Flanagan, Tom Cashen, and Jim Sampson—to advocate for raising the Alaska minimum wage to a level that would better allow working Alaskan’s to afford basic necessities such as food, housing, clothing, and medical care for themselves and their families, in a state consistently ranked as one of the most expensive in the nation.
What we have done so far
On April 26, 2013 AFMW submitted an application to the Lieutenant Governor for permission to begin collecting the 30,169 signatures necessary to secure a place on the August 2014 ballot for a voter initiative to raise Alaska’s minimum wage. Specifically, the initiative proposed to raise the state minimum wage from $7.75 to $8.75 by January 2015, and to $9.75 by January 2016, with an automatic annual cost of living adjustment (either based upon the Anchorage Consumer Price Index or to be at least $1 above the federal rate, whichever is higher) built in for future years. The application was approved on June 20, 2013.
Between July 2013 and January 2014, with the help of over 150 volunteers, 43,489 signatures were collected at major events and venues throughout the state. Among those events and venues were Juneau's Fourth of July celebration, Fairbanks’ Golden Days, the World Eskimo Indian Olympics, the Palmer and Tanana Valley Fairs, Governor's picnics, malls, farmers markets, and even the North Pole Solid Waste Transfer Station.
Ultimately, on January 17, 2014, the signed petitions were filed with the Division of Elections. On February 26, the Division of Elections confirmed that 36,480 signatures were valid, unduplicated, and met the threshold requirements from each of the 33 House Districts, and the Lieutenant Governor approved the petition as Ballot Measure 3 for the August primary ballot.
As a result of subsequent legislative chicanery (more details in “Why Ballot Measure 3 is on the November…” section), the ballot measure was ultimately pushed to the November (rather than the August) election. Rather than viewing this as a setback, however, we view this as an opportunity—to not only raise the wage but to make a statement about just how broad and overwhelming support for a higher minimum wage is in Alaska!
Why Ballot Measure 3 is on the November (general election) ballot rather than the August (primary election) ballot
In order to answer this question a bit of background is required. Under Alaska law, any time that there is a voter ballot initiative the legislature is empowered to preempt the initiative by passing a "substantially similar" legislation. It is a good law, intended to allow the legislature to quickly and directly respond to citizen demands without waiting for elections.
In 2001, much like today, there was a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage. In January of 2002, the division of elections having certified that sufficient signatures had been collected, the initiative was approved for placement on the 2002 general election ballot. In response, seemingly seeking to expedite the process of raising the wage, the Alaska state legislature preempted the ballot initiative by passing its own legislation to raise the minimum wage from $5.65 to $7.15 per hour. Unfortunately, while the initial 2002 legislation provided for both an immediate rise in the minimum wage as well as future increases based upon an annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), the following year in 2003 the Alaska legislature repealed the COLA provision. As a result, the state minimum wage remained at just $7.15 until 2009 when it was almost surpassed by the federal minimum wage. In 2009 the legislature raised the wage to the federal minimum of $7.25 and restored the provision which, prior to 2003, had established the Alaska minimum wage at fifty cents over the federal rate. Since January 1st, 2010 the Alaskan minimum wage has remained at $7.75 an hour.
The reason that history is important is that in April of 2014, on the 74th day of the 90 day legislative session, just as they did in 2002, the leadership of the House Majority introduced a bill substantively similar to the minimum wage ballot initiative in an attempt to preempt the initiative and knock it off the ballot.
This time, however, having learned from the past, sponsors and proponents of the minimum wage mobilized to oppose what they saw as a ploy to again thwart the will of the people, testifying against the bill and inundating legislators with letters and phone calls. Despite these attempt to prevent a repeat of 2002, however, the bill ultimately passed in the state House, by the barest possible margin, on a 21-19 vote.
Fortunately, the Senate resisted pressure for the House leadership to take up the bill, and it died with the end of the session. But since the initiative law requires ballot measures to be voted on no less than 120 days following adjournment of the legislature, the extension of the legislative session beyond its ninety day limit pushed the minimum wage and two other approved ballot measures from the August primary to the November general election ballot.
Where do we stand now?
On November 4th, Alaskan voters will have the opportunity to increase our woefully inadequate minimum wage to a level more appropriate to our cost of living, including a provision maintaining it against inflation, and making a meaningful difference in the lives of thousands of hard working Alaskans and their families.
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