A Tucson attorney has started an initiative drive to set a minimum wage for workers in Arizona above the federal standard.
The proposal by Bob Schwartz would require that employees in the state be paid at least $5.95 per hour by July 1, 2007. That is 80 cents more than now required in federal law.
If approved, there would be a second automatic boost to $6.75 a year later, with automatic increases annually thereafter linked to inflation.
Schwartz and his organization, Five Fifteen Isn’t Working, need 183,917 to put the proposed constitutional amendment on the 2006 ballot.
Arizona has no minimum wage. But virtually all but the smallest employers are covered by federal law and the $5.15 figure, an amount that translates to an annual pre-tax wage of $10,712 a year.
Schwartz said the figure has not been changed since 1997.
In the interim, he said, the purchasing power of workers has been eroded.
The idea got a chilly reception from Farrell Quinlan, spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. "If we were to institute a higher minimum wage (than the federal figure) it would hurt our competitiveness with other states in attracting jobs," he said.
Quinlan also said he believes that increasing labor costs actually would hurt the people that Schwartz seeks to help: Those at the bottom of the wage scale.
He said some companies, facing higher costs, might choose to fill fewer of these unskilled or training jobs.
But Schwartz said that loss of jobs has not occurred in other states where the minimum wage has been raised.
He also said there is research which shows that when minimum wages are raised employees are more productive and there is less absenteeism, turnover and retraining costs.
"So employers actually can see cost improvements by paying a higher wage,’’ he said.
Schwartz needs to pursue the initiative route because similar proposals by some state lawmakers have not even received a hearing at the Legislature.