Minimum wage initiative certified for November ballot

Posted: Monday, January 07, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- An initiative to raise Alaska's minimum wage by $1.50 was certified to appear on the ballot in November 2002.

Lawmakers who took up the issue last session will decide whether to renew debate on an increase after they return to work Jan. 14. But a labor union pushing the initiative said voters may have the last word.

The initiative being sought by the Alaska AFL-CIO would raise the state's minimum wage to $7.15 per hour, putting it $2 above the federal minimum wage.

Mano Frey, executive president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, said the minimum wage in this state is below Washington, Oregon and California. Frey chided the Republican-controlled Legislature for not raising the wage in its last session.

''We have the lowest state minimum wage at $5.65 per hour of any of our Western states,'' Frey said. ''Now, because the Legislature refused to act last year, the people of Alaska will have a chance to act themselves this November at the ballot box.''

The union was able to collect nearly 50,000 signatures in support of putting the measure on the ballot, Frey said. Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer certified it for the ballot on Jan. 3.

Lawmakers tackled the issue in the last legislative session, but were unable to reach an agreement. Bills to raise the minimum wage were introduced in both the House and Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, has said the Legislature can let voters decide the issue or try to craft legislation similar enough to the initiative to warrant its removal from the ballot.

Sen. Randy Phillips, chairman of the committee holding the bills, said he'll decide by late winter whether or not to move them.

Gov. Tony Knowles had a version that would have tied the minimum wage to inflation, something that labor supported but was opposed by business interests.

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