Alaska’s minimum wage rose to $11.73 per hour as of Jan. 1, following a voter-approved ballot measure in 2014 to make annual adjustments based on inflation.
Another ballot initiative proposed for the November general election would boost Alaska’s minimum wage to $15 per hour over three years, and provide workers with paid sick days. Supporters say they have enough signatures from registered voters to get the initiative on the ballot, while business groups are analyzing its potential impacts.
Comparing all 50 states and Washington, D.C., 21 states currently have a higher minimum wage than Alaska; D.C. tops the list at $17 per hour. The federal minimum age — at $7.25 per hour — has not increased since 2009.
Supporters of raising the state’s minimum wage filed a ballot initiative in July and formed the group Better Jobs for Alaska. It has largely been funded by the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a major and influential progressive nonprofit based out of Washington, D.C., that has given over $820,000, according to online filings.
Ira Slomski-Pritz, a campaign adviser, said Better Jobs for Alaska has seen a strong response from across the state while collecting signatures.
“Making less than $15 an hour, it really doesn’t cut it,” he said. “And this is just a statement that people should be able to make ends meet here in Alaska.”
If the ballot measure is approved, Alaska’s minimum wage would increase to $13 in July 2025, $14 in July 2026 and $15 in July 2027. It would keep rising annually according to inflation after that. The state’s minimum wage would also need to be at least $2 per hour higher than the federal minimum wage.
Dan Robinson, research chief for the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said the state’s latest minimum wage increase would impact the lowest-paid workers in sectors like seafood processing, food service and retail. But that would represent “a pretty small subset of all workers” in Alaska, he said.
While it’s difficult to track exactly how many Alaska workers currently earn minimum wage, Robinson said that a statewide labor shortage has helped push the dominant majority of workers above the $15-per-hour threshold.
Another of the ballot measure’s provisions would guarantee workers one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Employees at small businesses could accrue up to 40 hours of leave; at larger firms, workers could hold up to 56 hours.
A third provision would prohibit employers from punishing workers for failing to participate in political or religious meetings. States like New York have passed similar measures, which bar employers from holding so-called “captive audience meetings” where they try to convince workers not to unionize.
Anchorage Democratic Rep. Genevieve Mina, a backer of the ballot initiative, said a majority of Alaskans may earn more than the minimum wage, but that all workers should benefit from increased incomes. She said the COVID-19 pandemic had also shown the benefits of guaranteed sick leave.
The Alaska Chamber of Commerce opposed the 2014 ballot measure to raise the minimum wage, arguing that income decisions should be left to employers and workers. CEO Kati Capozzi said staff are in the “fact-finding stage” for the current proposal, and she expects a formal position to be announced soon.
Capozzi said there had been concerns about the requirement to provide sick days among seasonal industries — like the tourism and seafood processing sectors — and questions about how the leave would be carried over from year to year.
“We’re just trying to figure out the real implications are, particularly for those two industries,” she said about the proposed ballot measure.