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Arizona GOP lawmakers want voters to standardize minimum wage


PHOENIX — Republican lawmakers are moving to let voters throughout the state override the decision of voters in some cities to set their own minimum wage.

Legislation awaiting House action this week seeks to ask voters in November to declare the regulation of employee benefits, including wages “is of statewide concern.” HCR 2031 also would say that not only wages, but also other compensation, paid leaves, meal breaks and even rest periods are “not subject to further regulation by a city, town or other political subdivision of this state.”

More to the point, that language, if approved by voters, would be put into the Arizona Constitution.

That’s needed because the proposal would override a 2016 law, approved by a 58% to 42% margin, that not only creates a state minimum wage higher than the federal figure but specifically gives cities and towns the right to do even more.

A constitutional amendment trumps statutory changes. And the Arizona Constitution can be amended only by voters.

The measure, if approved, would most immediately supersede what has been enacted by voters in Tucson and Flagstaff who have set their own minimum wages higher than the current $12.80 in state law. And it would preclude voters in other communities from following suit and making their own decisions.

This isn’t the only effort to restrict what cities, towns and counties can mandate of local employers.

Monday, the House Appropriations Committee approved House Bill 2001. It would bar local governments from requiring companies to “alter, adjust or in any way regulate an employee’s labor productivity during working hours.”

Nicole LaSlavic, lobbyist for the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association, said this is in reaction to a 2020 bid by Phoenix officials, never enacted, to put into ordinance any limits on what private employers can demand of their workers.

Both measures need full House approval.

What’s behind both are efforts by Republican lawmakers to restrain the activities of local governments — and, most immediately, communities where Democrats outnumber Republicans. And they are drawing predictable reactions.

Tucson mayor Regina Romero pointed out that Proposition 206, the 2016 law setting a state minimum wage, specifically permits higher local options. Based on that, voters in her community approved going to $13 this April and, in steps, up to $15 in 2025.

“The state legislature should focus on overriding the aggregate expenditure limit in our public schools and stop wasting their time trying to override the will of Tucson voters,” said Romero.

Flagstaff Mayor Paul Deasy accused lawmakers of “disrespect” for the voters of his community.

He pointed out that residents there approved their own minimum wage the same year voters enacted Proposition 206. It is now $15.50, with future increases tied to inflation.

“This was not decided by the Flagstaff city council but by the people of Flagstaff,” Deasy told Capitol Media Services, saying the action by state lawmakers “shows a complete slap in the face to the people.”

And Jeanine L’Ecuyer, aide to Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, called Arizona “one of the worst states for infringing on local control.”

But Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler, said he sees nothing wrong in allowing voters from other communities that don’t have their own local ordinances on wages and other labor issues to override what voters have done elsewhere.

Weninger, who is part-owner of sandwich shops, said Arizona cannot attract businesses if it does not have uniform laws statewide. And for him the issues go beyond simply what employers have to pay their workers.

Consider, he said, the idea of “predictive scheduling” that requires some employers who have a worker’s schedule out sometimes two or three weeks ahead of time. While not enacted by any Arizona community, has taken hold in places like California.

Tucson actually has a variant of that. The ordinance requires large employers — those with an average of 26 workers — to pay a minimum of three hours’ worth of wages when a shift is cut short or canceled with shorter than a 24-hour notice to the employee.

Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, the sponsor of the constitutional amendment, said statewide intervention — and override — is necessary.

“The ability of the cities and counties to adopt geographical specific labor regulations has created an administrative nightmare for small business owners,” she said. “Businesses are put at a competitive disadvantage based entirely on what side of the street they are working on.”

And Cobb said she fears it won’t stop with just what voters have enacted in Tucson and Flagstaff.

“It’ll end up in dozens of separate labor standards,” she said. And Cobb, who operates a dental practice in Kingman, said she would not want to have separate rules for her workers if she were to open an office in Flagstaff.

Rep. Sarah Liguori, D-Phoenix, said she’s not sure a single statewide standard is a good idea.

“I’m not sure if this is going to help or hurt wages,” she said. “Each city and town does business differently. The state coming in and overseeing how everyone needs to do business is my concern.”

Cobb also is the author behind HB 2001.

While it cannot affect local minimum wage — that requires the constitutional amendment she is pushing — it would override local control on other labor issues, all without having to seek statewide voter approval. And it could be enacted solely by the Republican-controlled legislature without having to ask voters what they think.

LaSlavic said members of the state tourism organization were alarmed by that unsuccessful 2020 bid by Phoenix to impose new rules on private employers.

One, for example, would have given furloughed employees a first “right of recall” for any position for which they are qualified. There also were issues of sick leave for workers not covered by federal laws enacted during the COVID pandemic.

And it was so specific, she said, that it would bar companies from disciplining workers who failed to clean at least 4,000 square feet of space in any eight-hour shift.