Confident that the ballot initiative to raise the state's minimum wage to $6.75 an hour will go before voters, supporters laid out plans Tuesday to get Arizonans to the polls in November.
"This campaign is only going to work if people come out to vote," Alicia Russell, chairwoman of the Arizona ACORN Political Action Committee, said at a panel discussion on the issue.
Efforts include educating low-wage workers on how a minimum wage boost of $1.60 would add $3,338 annually, based on a 40-hour workweek. That extra income could help offset skyrocketing gas and housing costs, organizers said. advertisement
The proposed increase also would include cost-of-living adjustments.
"One of the issues we're constantly facing is the cost of living is constantly going up but the wages are stagnant," said Jim McLaughlin, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99 in Phoenix.
He also said minimum and near-minimum wage aren't simply teenage issues.
"We know 74 percent of people earning less than $7 an hour are not teenagers," he said.
Business groups oppose increases in the minimum wage, saying they lead to higher unemployment for inexperienced and low-skilled workers.
The Goldwater Institute last month came out against the increase, saying that fewer than 1 percent of workers older than 25 receives minimum wage and that those most likely to be hurt by an increase are young African-Americans.
The group also said that Washington, Oregon and California, which have raised their minimum wages above the federal level, have higher unemployment rates than Arizona.
Michelle Bolton, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business-Arizona, said her group worries that future increases based on higher consumer prices could cripple smaller businesses.
"(The minimum) increases whether (the business) can afford to increase wages or not. The unintended consequence is employees losing jobs . . . or health benefits," she said.
ACORN isn't letting efforts to raise the federal minimum wage to $7.25 by June 2009 from keeping it from promoting the state initiative.
The federal effort could hit a snag in the Senate because it's tied to a reduction in the estate tax for millionaires.
Organizers of Arizona's effort don't like the federal initiative because it could reduce programs that help the working poor, said Jen Kern of ACORN's Living Wage Resource Center.
Supporters of the Arizona initiative are gathering contributions to kick off their education campaign.
They anticipate business groups will raise $4 million to try to get the initiative defeated