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Jonathan Hoffman: Harmful $15 minimum wage could be just a start
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Jonathan Hoffman: Harmful $15 minimum wage could be just a start

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

In November, we Tucsonans will vote on Prop 206, determining whether or not the City of Tucson will institute a citywide minimum wage of $15 an hour.

If this sounds eerily familiar, there was a Prop 206 that sought to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour at the state level in 2016. Actually, it’s more like “Groundhog Day” since I recall writing about this issue in 2011, 2015, and recently in July of this year.

There are some interesting aspects to this current go-round:

For example, SECTION 17-87. ENFORCEMENT BY THE CITY, states, “Employers and hiring entities shall allow the City access to pay and time records of an employee and worker for hire, with appropriate notice and in a reasonable manner. Where an employer or hiring entity does not maintain such records, does not allow the reasonable access to such records, or such records were not created contemporaneously, the account of the employee or worker for hire is presumed accurate.”

SECTION 17-84. RETALIATION PROHIBITED, states, “Taking adverse action against an individual within ninety (90) days of an individual’s engaging in the rights covered by the state minimum wage and benefits law, or notifying the employer or employer’s representative of a violation of this article, shall raise a rebuttable presumption that such action was retaliation.”

These two paragraphs provide strong employee protection, which is good. Some protection for the employer would have been good too, but I didn’t find any. (Note to employers: Document the heck out of everything so you will be able to prove your innocence.)

Another interesting aspect is the roll out of the minimum wage increases. The increases are annual increments which finally achieve the $15 an hour rate on January 1, 2025, after which it is tied to inflation. That’s over three years from now. With projected inflation rates over the next three years, the 2025 minimum will technically be $15 an hour, but the buying power of that wage might be around the $12.15 state minimum we have today.

I recently heard a radio interview with Claudio Rodriguez, an organizer for the “Tucson Fight for Fifteen.” Rodriguez was asked why $15 was chosen. This is where he said the quiet part out loud. “It’s a base point, we know that it is not going to be able to cover the cost of living”, then, “It’s a good starting point, we feel that’s where people are comfortable.” So, it’s not really about a $15 minimum wage — I think that’s just the warm-up.

For example, In a recent blog posting on the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR) website, author Dean Baker writes, “Think of what the country would look like if the lowest paying jobs, think of dishwashers or custodians, paid $26 an hour. ... A minimum wage this high would almost certainly lead to large-scale unemployment, and that would be true even if it were phased in over five or six years.”

Fifteen dollars an hour is beginning to sound like chump change already! When “the people are comfortable” with $26, what will be next? Is there any limiting principle? I don’t know. Is there a limit to our gullibility?

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