Leader says minimum wage petition drive ‘on track for success’

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. — A leader of the push to get a minimum-wage hike on Nebraska’s November ballot says he’s confident his group is on track to round up enough signatures by Thursday to put the issue to a vote.

BIG PROTEST: Last year fast-food workers across the U.S. protested for higher wages. Nebraska voters may get a chance to vote on increasing the wage to $9.

Nebraskans for Better Wages has been working since mid-May to gather 83,000 certified signatures — or 7 percent of registered voters — by Thursday to put the wage hike to a statewide vote. State law requires that least 5 percent of those signatures come from each of 38 counties.

Nebraska’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, the same as the federal minimum. The ballot proposal seeks to raise that to $8 an hour by 2015 and $9 by 2016.

But the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and conservative Platte Institute oppose a wage hike.

Dick Clark, director of research for the Platte Institute, said increasing the price of a business inputs increases costs for businesses, especially those operating on thin margins, and could lead to hiring freezes, business closures, delayed business startups, more automation and replacement of low-skilled workers.

“When you raise the price of buying certain labor, you just price some out of the market,” he said. “It’s the basic law of supply and demand.”

A wage hike would disproportionately affect small, rural communities where wages for entry-level, low-skill jobs are often at the minimum wage, Clark said.

“Folks aren’t going to be able to afford that,” he said, citing “mom and pop stores” in small towns.

Areas with a high minimum wage have high youth unemployment, Clark said, and about half of those earning minimum in Nebraska are under the age of 24. States with higher minimum thresholds, such as Washington and California, have double the youth unemployment rate of Nebraka’s, he said.

If it’s hard for young people to get jobs, that has “untold repurcussions,” Clark said.

A lead organizer of the petition drive, Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, said the campaign has hit its projections so far and will continue working hard until the deadline.

PETITION: Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist says the petition drive is on track to succeed in gathering enough signatures to put the issue to a vote in November.

Earlier this year, Nordquist introduced a bill that would have increased the minimum wage to $9 over three years, but it fell five votes short. Nebraska’s minimum wage hasn’t increased since 2009.

Nebraskans for Better Wages says 32,000 Nebraskans earned the minimum wage in 2012 — the second highest percentage of hourly workers earning at or below minimum compared to surrounding states. They say a full-time minimum wage earner makes $15,080 per year, which is below the federal poverty line for families of two or more.

Labor unions are pushing for a boost in the wage not because many of their members are at that pay level, but because their pay rates are often tied to the minimum wage, he said. Nebraskans for Better Wages received $45,000 from Nebraska unions, according to its state campaign finance report.

But supporters of an wage boost point to a poll earlier this year that found 60 percent of Nebraskans support raising the minimum wage. They say it’s critical to rebuilding the state’s middle class.

Nebraska Appleseed, one of the groups pushing people to sign the petition, says a boost would increase consumer spending, reduce turnover, increase productivity and reduce poverty. They say research shows modest increases have little effect on employment, including youth employment and say 66 percent of low-wage workers work for large corporations, not small businesses.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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