Group Seeks to Hike Wages

Warren Tribune Chronicle - September 7, 2006

Warren Tribune Chronicle

By Raymond L. Smith

Supporters of an effort to increase the state minimum wage to $6.85 an hour say they will conduct an aggressive grassroot campaign to get Ohioans to support the constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

Ohioans for a Fair Minimum Wage obtained more than 363,183 valid signatures from Ohioans supporting the idea of putting an issue on the ballot, which was more than 40,000 signatures needed. The coalition needed to collect at least 322,899 signatures to get on the ballot.

The pro-wage increase group obtained positive support for the constitutional amendment initiative in 69 of Ohio’s 88 counties.

‘‘We want to tie future increases to the inflation rate,’’ said Tim Burg, a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO and a leader in the Ohioans For A Fair Minimum Wage.

Prior to the increase from $4.85 per hour to $5.15 per hour that was approved earlier this year, the last minimum wage increase was more than a decade ago. The recent increase brought Ohio in line with the federal minimum pay level.

If passed, more than 700,000 Ohioans, or about 14 percent of Ohio’s work force, can expect to see a raise.

Opponents say that the amendment as currently written is vague manner and would provide ways for anyone to look into the private employment records of Ohioans. They plan an extensive campaign against the issue.

Tony Fiore, director of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce labor and human resources policy said: ‘‘We don’t believe third parties should have access to personal records that could include wages and addresses.’’

The group opposing the wage increase is called Ohioans to Protect Personal Privacy. It is comprised of a variety of organizations, including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Council of Retail Merchants, National Federation of Independent Businessmen, Ohio Grocers Association, Ohio Restaurant Association and the Ohio Farm Bureau.

‘‘Because it is a constitutional amendment, once it is passed, it cannot be changed legislatively,’’ Fiore said. ‘‘This will represent a massive intrusion into personal privacy issues. If passed, it also will increase the cost of government because a new level of record-keeping will have to be established.’’

In addition, the opposition said most of the affected workers are young and not the primary wage earners in families — 40 percent are teenagers and almost two-thirds are under age 24. Almost half still live with their parents.

‘‘Less than 10 percent of the affected workers are the sole earner of a family supporting one or more children,’’ Fiore said. ‘‘That is the group that supporters of this amendment would help. The average annual income for homes with a minimum wage worker is $52,000.’’

Opponents point to a 2005 study by the Employment Policy Institute that projects a loss of 12,000 jobs if the minimum wage increase is passed.

‘‘This will mostly be among the lowest skilled workers who need the training,’’ Fiore said.

Burg and other supporters argue Ohio’s minimum wage is one of the lowest in the country.

The Rev. Tim Ahren, the senior pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Columbus, said poverty has significantly increased in Ohio.

People working full time at Ohio’s present minimum wage earn about $10,700 per year. The federal poverty level is $13,200.

‘‘Ohio’s minimum wage is so low that those working a full 40-hour week are still living below the federal poverty level,’’ Ahren said. ‘‘People earning the minimum wage have less real buying power than they had 50 years ago. At these wages, it is impossible for them to escape poverty no matter how hard they work.’’

Ohio Policy Matters Ohio, a non-partisan research group, claims a survey of states that have increased their minimum wages salaries indicate that more jobs were created and the money that lower income workers earned have directly gone into the communities in which the live.

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