A group seeking to increase Alaska’s minimum wage turned in over 41,000 signatures to the Alaska Division of Elections on Tuesday — a first step toward putting the question on the 2024 ballot.
The signatures must now be counted and verified by the lieutenant governor’s office before the initiative can be certified and the question officially placed on the November ballot.
The ballot initiative seeks to increase Alaska’s minimum wage to $13 per hour in 2025, $14 per hour in 2026 and $15 per hour in 2027. The wage would then be adjusted annually to account for inflation. The initiative would also provide employees with guaranteed paid sick leave. Lastly, it would prohibit employers from compelling employees to attend meetings regarding religious and political matters, a tactic sometimes used to dissuade workers from unionizing.
The initiatives co-chairs include Ed Flanagan, former commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development under Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles.
Flanagan was also involved in the last initiative that increased Alaska’s minimum wage, which passed in 2014 with over 70% of the vote, raising the wage to $9.75 over a three-year period. Flanagan said the initiative “didn’t go high enough last time,” and since then, he said Alaska’s minimum wage “has fallen too far behind,” despite regular adjustments for inflation.
Already, 16 states and Washington, D.C., offer a minimum wage greater than $13 per hour. Alaska’s current minimum wage is $11.73.
“Minimum wage is not supposed to be a starvation wage. It’s supposed to be hopefully close to a living wage,” said Flanagan.
According to data collected by researchers at MIT, a living wage in Alaska for a single adult with no children would be $17.15. That goes up to more than $35 for an adult with just one child.
“If I was king, we’d probably have a $20 wage, but I wouldn’t be confident that that could pass,” said Flanagan. “We are also adding a cost to employers with the sick leave in this provision. We have to be mindful of the economy and I think we’ve got a real responsible approach here.”
Rebecca Reiss, a Wasilla resident who works as a caregiver for disabled and elderly people, spoke in favor of the initiative at an Anchorage event on Tuesday. She said that despite working full time, she and her daughter became homeless in 2021 after she got sick and was forced to take unpaid time off.
Under the ballot initiative, workers at small companies could accrue up to 40 hours of leave. At larger firms, workers could hold up to 56 hours.
“This ballot initiative will bring a small amount of relief to people, so they can earn the right to stay home with a sick child, to stay home when they’re sick themselves, to not come to work at a restaurant and just serve you a meal when they’re sick,” said Joelle Hall, president of Alaska AFL-CIO, the state’s largest labor organization, which has endorsed the initiative.
Another provision in the initiative would ban employers from forcing their workers to attend political or religious meetings, including so-called “captive audience meetings” where employers try to convince workers not to unionize.
The provision is similar to a bill introduced last year by Sen. Löki Tobin, an Anchorage Democrat. Patrick FitzGerald, a political coordinator with the Alaska Teamsters Local 959, said the leaders of the Teamsters International Union are trying to implement the measure across the country. Alaska was one of several states where such bills were introduced last year, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
The organizers of the ballot measure say that the wage increases could directly impact 12,000 Alaskan workers earning below $15, but could impact wages for other workers as well by leading to pay increases for people earning more than the minimum wage.
The group collected more than 41,000 signatures, its leaders said Tuesday. To put the question on the ballot, the signatures must come from at least 10% of those who voted in the preceding general election, or around 26,000 Alaska voters. The signatures must represent three-quarters of house districts.
The office of Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom has 60 days to determine whether the signatures meet the requirements to certify the question on the ballot.
As of October, the ballot group, Better Jobs for Alaska, had raised $750,000. Of that, $720,000 came from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a national political spending hub that supports left-leaning causes. The group spent $256,000 on signature gathering, beginning in August. The group said it also relied on over 80 volunteers and collected at least 150 signatures in each of the state’s 40 house districts.
Groups representing employers in Alaska have yet to weigh in on the measure. In 2014, the Alaska Chamber was opposed to the ballot measure to increase Alaska’s minimum wage to $9.75, saying “employers and workers, not the government, should determine the value of labor, based on labor availability and its contribution to the earnings of the business.”