Minimum wage initiative petition has 12,000 signers

JUNEAU — An initiative to increase Alaska’s minimum wage yearly to keep up with inflation has at least 12,000 signatures, petition sponsor Ed Flanagan said. Flanagan, a former state labor commissioner, is sponsoring the initiative along with Tom Cashen and Jim Sampson. Both Cashen and Sampson also are former state labor commissioners.

“In that position you get a lot of windows into workers’ lives,” Flanagan said. “You get a real feel for how folks are doing down at the lower end of the wage spectrum.”

A similar initiative was proposed in 2002. The Legislature beat the initiative supporters to the punch by enacting legislation similar to what the initiative aimed to accomplish. The legislation tied Alaska’s minimum wage to inflation and required it to be at least $1 higher than the federal minimum wage. Lawmakers reneged on those two aspects of the bill a year later.

The Legislature passed a bill in 2009 that required state minimum wage to be at least 50 cents more than the federal minimum wage.

“They really pulled a fast one on the people,” Flanagan said. “We’re really just trying to correct what the Legislature did and put a stable footing on (the minimum wage).”

Flanagan said that he’s heard some critics say that a minimum wage increase isn’t necessary and will only give teenagers working in retail or fast food a little extra spending money.

“I think it’s a basic fairness issue,” Flanagan said. “A lot of us remember when we worked minimum wage; there were adults right next to us who were going to be working those jobs years later.”

Flanagan, who spent Labor Day weekend gathering signatures in Fairbanks, said having the state’s minimum wage increase with inflation is overdue. He said states like Oregon, Washington and California already have the inflation provision and that Alaska, with such a high cost of living, should have it too.

“It’s definitely an appropriate time to be looking at working people,” Flanagan said. “There’s been way too little priority and attention on the needs of working people in this country.”

Jennifer Canfield is a reporter for the Juneau Empire.