Arkansas coalition scores minimum wage victory

Give Arkansas a Raise Now (GARN), a broad coalition of labor, religious and community groups, succeeded in getting a minimum wage bill signed into law on April 10. The bill was approved by the Arkansas Legislature and then signed by Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee. The law was the result of a compromise with the GARN coalition, which campaigned for a $1 an hour increase with an annual inflation hike to be placed on the November ballot.

The Rev. Stephen Copley, chairperson of the GARN coalition, said the group didn’t expect such a quick increase in the minimum wage when they launched their campaign last year. He said, “In our wildest dreams, we never thought we would be sitting here today to see it increasing this way.”

The GARN coalition includes many religious groups, AFSCME Council 38, and the state’s ACORN, AFL-CIO and NAACP organizations.

Huckabee said he would like to see Congress enact similar legislation on a national level, but was skeptical whether this could be accomplished.

The bill will raise the minimum wage in Arkansas from $5.15 an hour to $6.25, a 21.4 percent increase, effective Oct. 1. The increase will positively affect about 127,000 working Arkansans. Eighty percent of those who will benefit are age 20 or older and 53 percent work full-time.

A recent poll of Arkansans found that 87 percent would have supported a constitutional amendment increasing the minimum wage. Before the hike, Arkansas ranked at the bottom of the nation in terms of median income, $33,131, in 2004. For people working 40 hours a week, the minimum yearly wage will jump from $10,712 to $13,000.

The last increase in the federal minimum wage to its current level of $5.15 an hour was more than eight years ago. This represents the longest length of time without a minimum wage increase since it started in October 1938. Since September 1, 1997, the minimum wage has lost 17 percent of its purchasing power.

Huckabee remarked while signing the bill, “There is not anything that any of us purchase that costs the same or less today than it did in 1997.”

Michigan recently enacted legislation raising the state minimum wage to $6.95 an hour, effective October. Nevada, Montana, Missouri, Ohio and Arizona are considering increases in their minimum wage. State minimum wages are currently higher than the federal minimum wage in 18 states and the District of Columbia. (See item on Arizona minimum wage in This Week in Labor, this page.)