Minimum wage fight stirs up regrets - East Valley Tribune: Business

Minimum wage fight stirs up regrets

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Posted: Thursday, October 12, 2006 6:24 am | Updated: 3:17 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Arizona businesses should have bargained on a higher minimum wage through the state Legislature, a lobbyist for a key business group said, rather than having to fight a far-reaching initiative.

“It’s clearly something that we should have done,’’ said Todd Sanders, lobbyist for the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and a key leader in the fight against Proposition 202.

“We should have probably sat down with those folks,’’ he said, referring to Democratic legislators and others who want to create a state minimum wage.

Sanders isn’t alone in his beliefs.

A key Republican key legislator said the failure to negotiate may have been a missed opportunity for the business community. Rep. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, who leads the House Commerce Committee, said a negotiated deal “would have been preferred.’’

Reagan said she would have supported some state minimum wage above the federal $5.15 an hour mandate. And she said a properly crafted measure “could have been sold’’ to the GOP majority.

But there were no negotiations. In fact, there was not even any discussion at the Capitol as business lobbyists worked to bury Democratsponsored legislation to hike the minimum wage.

This year’s proposal would have set the minimum at $7.10 an hour, 35 cents an hour more than in the initiative. It did include automatic indexing tied to inflation — something that is in Proposition 202 which businesses find objectionable. But it did not set up any sort of state agency or bureaucracy to enforce the requirement.

The measure, however, never even got a hearing. That left no chance to negotiate something that businesses might have found more acceptable.

Labor union-sponsored Proposition 202 would require Arizona employers to pay workers at least $6.75 an hour. That is $1.60 more than mandated under federal law. There would be annual inflationary increases .

Sanders said the issue isn’t so much the wages. Instead, he called the measure a “Trojan horse,’’ filled with other unacceptable provisions.

For example, he cited a provision giving a state agency the power to inspect and copy business records and interview employees away from the work place. But Sanders said the wage hike is “all they want to talk about,’’ leading voters to believe that is pretty much all it does.

The result, he acknowledged, is polls showing that close to 80 percent of Arizonans say they will support the measure.

With Sanders believing the initiative is likely to pass, he said it would have

been preferable for businesses to get the Republican-controlled Legislature to consider a simpler measure, one more acceptable to employers.

Steve Chucri, president of the Arizona Restaurant Association, said there may have been some chance prior to the initiative being circulated by unions to at least try to reach a compromise.

“I’m sure that all parties could come to the table,’’ said Chucri. Members of his organization, many of whom would be affected by having to pay workers more than $5.15 an hour, have contributed funds to fight the initiative.

“I’m not saying we’re going to walk away with progress,’’ Chucri said. But he added, “We’ll sit down with any organization or any entity’’ to talk about issues.

But the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry would not have been part of any talks. Spokesman Farrell Quinlan said his organization believes any state minimum wage above the federal figure is a bad idea. He said there was no reason for business to compromise, even with the threat of a more comprehensive initiative.

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