Voters Increase Minimum Wage, Guarantee Paid Sick Time for Millions of Workers

By Zoe Ziliak Michel

While the public has been focused on the presidential race, last week’s election also included ballot initiatives affecting millions of working people. Across the country, in both red and blue states, Americans voted overwhelmingly for laws that will raise wages, increase access to paid sick time, and give more workers a chance at full-time employment. These crucial labor protections will significantly improve the quality of jobs, particularly for low-wage workers.

Four states passed ballot initiatives to increase the minimum wage. In Arizona, Colorado, and Maine, voters approved a gradual increase to $12 an hour, while Washington voters approved an increase to $13.50. (The current federal minimum wage is just $7.25 an hour.) These changes will help workers better afford basic necessities like rent and utilities as well as boost local economies through increased spending.

In Arizona and Washington, 2 million workers have also been given the right to earn paid sick time. Following last week’s victories, there are now seven states—as well as nearly three dozen cities and counties—with sick time laws on the books. These policies have numerous benefits for workers and employers, including increased access to preventive health care, reduced spread of communicable diseases, and cost savings for businesses.

In San Jose, California, voters passed a measure that will make it easier for part-time workers to obtain additional hours in order to make ends meet. By passing the Opportunity to Work initiative, San Jose joins four other cities (Seattle, WA; SeaTac, WA; San Francisco, CA; and Emeryville, CA) with recent laws that address involuntary part-time work or insufficient access to work hours. Under San Jose’s law, when employers find they have more hours of work available, they must offer those hours to existing, qualified part-time employees before hiring new staff.

These victories are part of a growing movement to improve job quality nationwide. By organizing together in cities and states across the country, workers, advocates, community groups, and progressive businesses are transforming U.S. labor standards. However, much remains to be done. Millions of workers still struggle to pay the bills despite working long hours and multiple jobs, are forced to work part-time despite wanting full-time work, and risk their employment to care for themselves or a sick loved one. So while we celebrate recent victories, we must continue to move forward until quality jobs are available to every worker—regardless of where they live.