U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., endorsed a proposal to raise the state minimum wage incrementally to $8.50 over the next three years, signing a petition to support the ballot effort.
The measure is seeking to collect signatures to qualify for the November 2014 ballot.
“We have a lot of hardworking folks here in Arkansas making minimum wage, and it’s time these families got a raise,” Pryor said in a Little Rock press conference at the Bullock Temple CME Church. “It’s just not acceptable that our state is one of four with a minimum wage set well below the federal level, even as tens of thousands of Arkansas families struggle to get by. Let’s come together and raise Arkansas’ minimum wage. It’s the right thing to do and the right time to do it.”
Give Arkansas A Raise Now (GARN) is the citizen committee pushing for the proposal. The group needs 62,507 qualified voter signatures by July 7th to meet the threshold to qualify for the ballot.
Arkansas is one of four states where the minimum wage is lower than the federal minimum wage. Currently, Arkansas’ state minimum wage is $6.25 per hour, while the federal minimum wage is $7.25.
According to the Arkansas Department of Labor, employers generating less than $500,000 in annual sales and without interstate commerce may pay the state minimum wage versus the federal minimum wage. Efforts to tie the state minimum wage to the federal level have failed in previous legislative attempts, and the last time the state minimum wage was raised was in 2006.
According to information provided by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, 168,074 Arkansas workers – roughly 15% of the state’s workforce – would benefit from raising the state minimum wage.
The average salary for an Arkansas worker under the current state minimum wage is $12,750 annually. If the wage were eventually raised to $8.50 per hour, a full-time employee would earn $17,680 annually.
In his weekly address, President Barack Obama advocated for Congress to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 for all workers. Obama has already pushed an executive order to raise all federal contract workers’ pay to $10.10 per hour.
Pryor said he was opposed to raising the federal minimum wage.
“I like the Arkansas approach better. I like the phase-in approach,” Pryor said, adding that it was a grassroots effort that required voter approval.
A spokesman for Pryor’s Senate challenger, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, said he opposes raising the federal minimum wage and remains undecided on the state minimum wage issue.
“This is a rare issue where Senator Pryor and Tom agree,” said Cotton spokesman David Ray. “A ten-dollar minimum wage imposed by Washington is bad for Arkansas workers and businesses – it would hurt the very people we’re trying to help. Tom believes this issue is best left to the states and it’s a good idea to let Arkansas voters decide the matter. Tom will carefully study this proposal with an open mind and an eye toward making the best policy for Arkansas’s working families.”