Tucson: $15 minimum wage going to voters this November
Workers are pushing for the $15 wage all across the country. Cristian Cardona, right, an employee at a McDonald's, attends a rally for a $15 an hour minimum wage Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. Cardona says he needs the extra money to get his own place and to put aside some money for college. | John Raoux/AP

TUCSON, Ariz. – Tucson’s Fight for $15 voter initiative appears to have qualified to be on the ballot for the November 2021 city elections.  Last week organizers filed petitions bearing over 29,000 signatures, more than double the required number.

When passed by the voters it will raise the minimum wage within city limits to $15 per hour by 2025.  Arizona’s current minimum is $12.15 thanks to a statewide initiative voters passed in 2016 by a 16% margin in spite of Trump carrying the state, an indication of broad support for livable wages.

Close to 200 individuals participated in the petition drive which has been endorsed by the Pima County Labor Federation, Pima County Interfaith Council, Tucson Education Association, Jobs with Justice and many other community organizations, as well as two dozen local elected officials.  Some 85,000 Tucsonans will see wage increases if the initiative passes.

Tucson labor activist and former leader of the Pima Area Labor Federation, Paul Stapleton-Smith, explained, “The successful passage of the Tucson Fight for $15 ballot initiative will immediately strengthen our local economy and help lift thousands of our working families out of poverty. The burdens, losses and threats of this pandemic are still endured by our most vulnerable workers. This is the time to make positive change, to do what’s right: to help shape our economy to work for all of us. The loss of so many of our family members, the devastating losses of jobs and wages for thousands will not be forgotten, but the protections of higher wages and effective enforcement will be an important part of our healing together.”

Earlier this year the Tucson City council, by unanimous vote, established a $15 an hour minimum for all city employees.  It now appears that Pima County as well as Pima Community College will follow the city’s example.

Last November many Americans were hoping for a “Blue wave” that would not only defeat Trump, but also give the Democrats and progressives large majorities in Congress and big gains in local elections all across the country. No such luck, but it did happen in Tucson.

The Phoenix Metro area, where some 70% of Arizonans reside, has been slowly moving into the Democratic camp.  Half of Arizona’s remaining 30%, just over one million folks, live in Pima County, a slight majority of them in Tucson, making this America’s 33rd largest city.

Although Pima County is as large, in area, as Connecticut, the population is concentrated in the Tucson Metro area in the eastern corner of the county.  Less than 4% live outside the Metro area, mostly on the Tohono O’odham reservation.  The Yaqui Nation also has a small reservation within the Tucson Metro area.  The County has a very long desert border with Mexico.

Joe Biden carried Pima county by 20 points last Fall and so did Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly who defeated the Republican incumbent.  Pima provided the winning margin for those races.

More impressively, progressive candidates made unprecedented gains in county offices.  Gabriella Cazares-Kelly became the first Native American elected to a Pima County office, easily elected to replace a retiring centrist Democrat.  Cazares-Kelly, who grew up on the Tohono O’odham reservation, is a teacher, union activist, and DSA member who campaigned on making voting easier for marginalized communities.  Progressive public defender, Laura Conover, was elected County Attorney, to replace a conservative Democrat who retired.  It’s very unusual for voters who usually elect tough talking law and order types for the office which they consider the “top prosecutor.”  Democrats also added a fourth seat on the five-member County Board of Supervisors, something they haven’t had for decades.

Clearly, Tucson voters have become much more progressive. In November, when Tucsonans vote on the Fight for $15 proposition there will probably be no Republicans candidates on the ballot, only Democrats and independents. That can only help pass the proposition.

The Chamber of Commerce and the big business interests have given up on trying to get Republicans elected so they get their candidates to run as independents or as Democrats. It hasn’t succeeded, but it demonstrates that the bosses don’t really care about the Red or the Blue – they only care about the green.  Instead of the electoral class struggle taking place between the two parties it will happen only within the Democratic primary.

Voters will be electing three City Council members.  Candidates include progressive environmental activist Kevin Dahl who has a good chance of winning the Ward 3 Democratic primary to face independent progressive Lucy Libosha.  Running in the Ward 6 Democratic primary is Miranda Schubert, a steering committee member of United Campus Workers, the CWA affiliate that is amidst a campaign to organize the University of Arizona.  She will be facing popular but centrist incumbent Steve Kozachik who thinks he can win without campaigning.


Joe Bernick
Joe Bernick

Joe Bernick is the Director of Salt of the Earth Labor College, Tucson, Arizona.