Political Notebook

Voters signatures gathered in Fresno to support initiative to increase minimum wage

A group of health-care employees and low-wage workers, joined by small business owners and community leaders, stand next to boxes with the signatures of thousands of voters being used to qualify a ballot initiative to raise California’s minimum wage. The event was held at the Doubletree Hotel in Fresno on Tuesday.
A group of health-care employees and low-wage workers, joined by small business owners and community leaders, stand next to boxes with the signatures of thousands of voters being used to qualify a ballot initiative to raise California’s minimum wage. The event was held at the Doubletree Hotel in Fresno on Tuesday. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Employees in health care and low-wage fields submitted thousands of voter signatures Tuesday to the Fresno County registrar in a campaign to qualify a statewide ballot initiative that, if passed, would raise California’s minimum wage.

The drive supports the Fair Wage Act of 2016. It would raise the minimum wage from the current $10 an hour to $11 in 2017, and increase it $1 a year until the wage reaches $15 an hour in 2021. Once there, it will be raised with the cost of living.

Increasing the minimum wage would help an estimated 117,300 workers in Fresno County. According to the Service Employees International Union, those employees are 37 percent of the county’s work force. More than 3 million workers statewide would be helped.

Members of the SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West are sponsoring the initiative and aim to deliver 600,000 voter signatures to county registrars statewide this week. About 366,000 valid signatures are needed to qualify the measure for the November general election.

More than 200 labor and community organizations support the measure, including nearly 30 from Fresno, such as the Fresno Immigration Council, the Southeast Fresno Community Economic Development Association, the First Congregational Church of Fresno and the Housing Alliance of Fresno.

The state council of SEIU also is collecting signatures for a competing minimum-wage initiative that would bring it to $15 by 2020, a year earlier, and provide six paid sick days annually. The union has pledged to spend $20 million to $30 million on a statewide campaign.

Lawmakers also are considering whether to attempt to pass a minimum-wage increase through the Legislature.

Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, cautioned supporters during his budget announcement earlier this month that increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour would cost the state general fund about $4 billion a year.

Business groups said the increase will be especially damaging to smaller operators and that the proposal raises wages too fast.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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