Ballot Measure Breakthroughs


When it came to up-or-down votes on the issues, voters mostly agreed with labor’s message this year.

Minimum wage and sick pay

Voters approved minimum wage increases in four states — and two of the measures also mandated paid sick leave.  The measures in Colorado, Maine, and Arizona raise it to $12 by 2020, and annually for inflation after that. The Maine measure also phases out the subminimum for tipped workers by 2024. And the Arizona measure also requires 40  hours a year of paid sick time (24 for small businesses). Washington’s measure requires 40 hours a year of paid sick time, and raises the minimum to $13.50 by 2020. Voters in Flagstaff, Arizona went even further than the state as a whole, passing a local measure to raise the minimum to $15 an hour for non-tipped workers by 2021, and tipped workers by 2026. And in South Dakota, voters  overturned a sub-minimum wage that the Legislature established for underage workers.

Right to Work

Today in 26 states, laws known as “right-to-work” ban any contract requiring union-represented workers pay dues to the union. It’s a way to make sure unions are weak and poorly funded. But voters rejected a ballot measure to make Virginia a right-to-work state by a 54-46 margin. Meanwhile, in Alabama, already a “right-to-work” state,  voters by more than 2-1 added right-to-work to the state constitution. And in South Dakota, unions backed an initiative that would have created an end-run around the state’s “right-to-work” law, by allowing unions to charge non-members for services, but it was defeated by nearly 4-1.

Taxing the rich and corporations

Oregon’s Measure 97 — a 2.5 percent gross receipts tax on corporate sales over $25 million — went down to defeat. But Californians voted to increase the personal income tax on incomes over $250,000, and Mainers approved a 3 percent tax on household income over $200,000 to fund K-12 schools.

Drug prices and single payer

After drug companies spent $109 million to oppose it, a California measure requiring state agencies to pay the same as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)  for drugs was defeated 54-46. And in Colorado, a ballot measure to set up a single payer health care system went down spectacularly, 79-21. But in Ashland, Oregon, voters approved a measure encouraging the 2017 Legislature to move forward with a system of comprehensive health care for all Oregon residents.

Money out of politics

In its 2010 Citizens United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated limits on independent expenditures for political candidates. This year, voters in Washington and California passed measures calling for a federal constitutional amendment to overturn that ruling. The Washington measure declares that constitutional rights belong only to individuals, not corporations.

Marijuana legalization

It was a breakthrough year for marijuana legalization. Voters in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada legalized recreational marijuana, and voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota approved measures allowing medical marijuana. The only marijuana measure to fail this year was in Arizona. Unions have mostly been neutral on the measures, except United Food and Commercial Workers, which supports legalization and represents some workers in the cannabis industry.

Electricity deregulation

Remember Enron? Apparently voters in Nevada don’t. Ignoring appeals from the Nevada AFL-CIO, IBEW Local 1245, and Culinary Local 226, Nevadans approved a constitutional change that removes all limits on what electricity providers can charge.

Leave homecare workers alone

Washingtonians approved a measure sponsored by SEIU 775, the union that represents state-paid homecare workers, to exempt from public disclosure the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of in-home caregivers and the clients they serve. Canvassers working for the anti-union Freedom Foundation were knocking on their doors to talk them into dropping the union. The measure also increases civil penalties on those who defraud senior citizens and other vulnerable people.

Carbon tax

Washingtonians rejected a measure for a carbon emission tax. The measure was opposed by labor because rather than use the funds to build clean energy infrastructure and increase conservation, it would have lowered business taxes and resulted in a $100 million a year cut to the state budget.


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