Push for higher AZ minimum wage behind CA, NY

Posted at 6:11 PM, Apr 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-04 21:58:42-04

California and New York acted Monday to gradually push their statewide minimum wages to $15 an hour -- the highest in the nation.

In Los Angeles, Gov. Jerry Brown was cheered by union workers -- some chanting in Spanish -- as he signed a bill into law that will lift the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022.

The California bill will bump the state's $10 hourly minimum by 50 cents next year and to $11 in 2018. Hourly $1 raises will then come every January until 2022, unless the governor imposes a delay during an economic recession. Businesses with 25 or fewer employees have an extra year to comply.

Wages will rise with inflation each year thereafter. 

With action just to the west, we took a look at current efforts to increase the minimum wage in Arizona.

“There’s quite a bit of pressure building from labor unions, workers in general to have higher wages," said Lee McPheters, an economics research professor at ASU's W.P. Carey School of Business. 

A political committee in Flagstaff is now hoping to take the issue to the voters, after they sued the state last year for the city’s right to set a higher minimum wage.

“Flagstaff is primarily a tourist town, and we have a lot of tourist jobs, and restaurants, and bars, and hotels, and small retail," said Joe Bader, spokesperson for the Flagstaff Needs a Raise political committee. 

The group wants the minimum wage at $15 an hour in Flagstaff over the next five years. They cite the high cost of living.

“[The minimum wage] isn’t anywhere near enough to allow someone just working at that job at that wage to make a living," Bader said. 

The political committee says they’ve already gathered about 500 signatures over this past weekend. They have until July to gather about 2,500 more to get the initiative on the November ballot.

“it is going to have a squeeze on profits for those businesses that pay lower level wages," McPheters said.

While the worker benefits from a pay raise by getting paid more and being able to buy more, McPheters says there is a downside for businesses.

“Adjustments have to be made. They either lay workers off or they raise prices, but somebody somewhere has to pay the bills," McPheters said.

While the economic impact to Arizona is not yet known, experts say, Arizona workers and businesses will be watching.