Okla. governor bars cities from setting minimum wage

OKLAHOMA CITY – In what many here are calling an attack on workers’ rights and democracy, Oklahoma Republican Gov. Mary Fallin has signed a bill prohibiting cities, counties, and their citizens the right to set a mandatory minimum wage and employee benefits such as paid sick leave.

Her action came in response to workers and advocates in Oklahoma City who are working toward raising the city’s minimum wage to $10.10. By signing the bill, they say, Fallin has effectively taken away local workers’ right to vote on their own cities’ minimum wage and worker benefits.

The bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond. He claimed that the bill “provides a level playing field for all municipalities in Oklahoma. An artificial raise in the minimum wage could derail local economies in a matter of months. This is a fair measure for consumers, workers and small business owners.”

Fallin argued that “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.”

But the Economic Policy Institute points out that 88 percent of workers who would directly benefit from a raise in minimum wage are over the age of 20, and approximately 35 percent are over the age of 40.

David Slain, the lawyer who wrote the petition for a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma City, expressed disappointed that the Legislature “would vote in such a way to take the right of the people to decide minimum wage.” Those who are collecting signatures to petition for a statewide vote will continue to do so, he said, and they hope to reach 4,000 by the end of April. To put the initiative on the state ballot, 80,000 signatures are required.

Photo: Efforts to raise the minimum wage are happening across the country. Here, a rally in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Jobs Now CC