Oklahoma Governor Bans Minimum Wage Increases Statewide

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill into law yesterday that prohibits cities from establishing a mandatory minimum wage as well as certain employee benefits, such as paid sick days and vacation day requirements.

As the Associated Press reports, opponents of the bill feel it specifically targets an initiative in Oklahoma City where organizers are gathering signatures to garner support for raising the minimum wage from the federal level of $7.25 to $10.10 an hour in the city.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Regional Commissioner Stanley W. Suchman noted that the 64,000 workers earning the federal minimum wage or less made in 2012 up 7.2 percent of all hourly-paid workers in the state of Oklahoma. The percentage is shockingly higher than the nationwide average, which sits at 4.7 percent. The same year, Oklahoma was ranked third highest for proportion of hourly-paid workers earning at or below the prevailing federal minimum wage, coming in behind Idaho (7.7 percent) and Texas (7.5 percent).

David Slain, the lawyer who wrote the petition, expresses disappointment that the Oklahoma Legislature “would vote in such a way to take the right of the people to decide minimum wage.” He says grassroots efforts will continue in hopes of gather 4,000 signatures by the end of April.

In order to bring the initiative to a statewide vote, the petition will have to collect a total of 80,000 signatures.

President Barack Obama has made the push for raising the federal minimum wage one of the centerpieces of his second term, and many states across the country are following his lead by enacting higher mandatory minimum wages.

Governor Fallin has previously voiced opposition to raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, stating she is “concerned that it would destroy jobs, and especially small business owners can’t afford to increase their minimum wage.”

In a statement concerning the recently passed bill, Fallin says:

“Most minimum-wage workers are young, single people working part-time or entry-level jobs. Many are high school or college students living with their parents in middle-class families. Mandating an increase in the minimum wage would require businesses to fire many of those part-time workers. It would create a hardship for small business owners, stifle job creation and increase costs for consumers. And it would do all of these things without even addressing the goal of reducing poverty.”

Fallin’s stance, however, goes against prevailing evidence to the contrary: the average age of minimum wage workers is 35 years old, and 55 percent are working full-time. Experts have also analyzed two decades worth of information regarding minimum wage hikes and found that, even at times of high unemployment, there is no clear evidence that raising the minimum wage had negative consequences towards job creation.

If the signing of this bill doesn’t help the average Oklahoman worker, then who is Governor Fallin helping by denying a higher minimum wage, a living wage, to the people of her state?