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Union opposes legislative action on minimum wage

Posted: March 30, 2014 - 7:40pm  |  Updated: March 30, 2014 - 8:04pm

JUNEAU (AP) — The head of the state’s largest labor union said his organization would oppose any move by lawmakers to raise the minimum wage ahead of a vote by Alaskans, fearing legislators will gut the law like they did 12 years ago.

Under Alaska law, if lawmakers pass a bill that is “substantially similar” to an upcoming ballot question, the measure is removed from the ballot.

“Any attempt to introduce and pass a substantially similar bill not only undermines the process, but deprives Alaska voters the opportunity liberties we all value so much,” Alaska AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami told lawmakers Saturday during a joint hearing of the House and Senate judiciary committees.

The minimum wage is $7.75 an hour in Alaska. The proposal would raise it to $8.75 on Jan. 1, 2015, and to $9.75 a year later. Afterward, the wage would be adjusted annually for inflation. If the resulting minimum wage is less than a dollar over the federal standard, which is $7.25 an hour, it would then be set a $1 higher.

Organizers of the measure have turned in more than 36,000 qualified signatures to get it on this summer’s primary ballot, and they worry about a copycat situation of what happened in 2002.

That year, a measure to raise the minimum wage was headed to voters until lawmakers passed a bill increasing the rate. Then, a year later, legislators went back into the law and essentially gutted it.

Ed Flanagan, one of this year’s initiative organizers and a former Alaska labor commissioner, told lawmakers that he has “no confidence” that same scenario won’t play out again.

But House Majority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, told the Juneau Empire that it’s wrong to assume this particular Legislature would act the same way.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to make assumptions that because of what took place 10 years ago that everything is going to be the same,” he said.

Pruitt said by having a bill go through the legislative process, it allows both sides to air their opinions and allows proper vetting.

“If it’s something the people are after, we’re the representatives of the people,” Pruitt said. “Why not show them that we’re willing to do it?”

Flanagan said during Saturday’s testimony that a full-time minimum wage earner in Alaska makes $8,600 less than the federal poverty threshold for a family of three, which is $19,790 this year.

“We are confident that Alaskan voters will do the right thing and vote to replace our woefully inadequate state minimum wage law with that proposed in the initiative,” Flanagan said.

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