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$15 minimum wage to go before Tucson voters

An initiative that would increase the minimum wage in Tucson to $15 over the next four years will be on the November ballot, after city officials announced Thursday that there were enough valid signatures on petitions to support the measure.

The "Tucson Minimum Wage Act" would increase wages for the lowest-paid workers over four years, beginning on April 1, 2022 with an increase to $13. The initiative, if passed, could directly affect the wages of about 85,000 Tucson workers and another 80-100,000 indirectly through raises for employees already making $15 an hour, organizers have said.

Backers of the "Tucson Fight for $15" initiative had filed petitions with the Tucson City Clerk's Office on July 2. They needed to have 14,826 valid signatures from registered voters in the city in support of putting the measure on the ballot.

After verifying the stacks of petitions that were delivered, city officials told organizers late Thursday that of about 26,700 signatures (a figure slightly less than the Clerk's Office initial estimate of about 29,000 signatures to review), about 65 percent were verified. That means roughly 17,360 valid signatures and a comfortable cushion above the threshold, organizer Billy Peard said.

Arizona's minimum wage in 2021 is $12.15. It will likely increase slightly at the beginning of 2022, with annual cost-of-living adjustment mandated by the Prop. 206 "Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act" approved by voters in 2016, which gradually increased the statewide minimum from $8.05.

Under the local initiative, the minimum wage in Tucson would increase again in 2023 to $14.25 and finally to $15 an hour on January 1, 2025. The Tucson wage would then include an annual inflation adjustment each year after.

"In recent months with rising housing costs, it's become clear that Tucson families need a pay raise in order to make ends meet," Peard told TucsonSentinel.com on Thursday night. "If passed, we expect that this initiative will inject more than $100 million into pocketbooks in the first year alone, helping both workers and local businesses"

Zaira Livier, the director of the People's Defense Initiative, a local progressive advocacy group, and a campaign organizer with the Tucson Fight for $15 coalition, said as petitions were filed that “$15 is in many ways about bottom-line dignity — dignity for families, dignity for children, dignity all around."

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The Southern Arizona Prosperity Alliance — a coalition that includes the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, the People’s Defense Initiative and the labor unions like the Tucson Education Association — filed in late February to begin circulating petitions to put the initiative on the ballot, which gave the coalition just four months to gather the necessary signatures.

Other local government bodies such as the city of Tucson, Pima County and the Tucson Unified School District have taken similar measures to increase the minimum wages of their employees to $15. The city and county made that change in June, while TUSD plans to increase its wages within two years.

Livier said as organizers filed the petitions that the work ahead will mean “old-fashioned” campaigning like knocking on doors and talking to voters, and she’s confident it won’t be hard.

“I remember that we were thinking that getting 14,000 (signatures) would be hard,” she said. “But we managed to collect 29,000 in 125 days. I think for many people it’s a no-brainer to raise the minimum wage. We can see it happening across the country. No minimum wage initiative has gone to the ballot and failed yet, so I think it won’t be difficult to do the same here.”

Peard, who trailed in a Democratic primary for an Arizona legislative seat in 2020, worked with Livier and the People's Defense Initiative on a 2019 "sanctuary city" initiative in Tucson. Voters defeated Prop. 205, the "Tucson Families Free and Together" measure, 70-30 in an election that saw all Democrats win local races.

A group led by Ed Ackerley, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for Tucson mayor as a 2019 independent candidate, has announced that it will support a campaign to oppose the initiative. Tucson Business Owners Inc. was incorporated last year by Ackerley as a nonprofit charitable organization, which falls under strict federal legal limits on campaign activities related to ballot initiatives.

TucsonSentinel.com’s Bennito L. Kelty contributed to this report.


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Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.com

Tucson Fight for $15 organizers file initiative petitions July 2.

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