Will the Council Defend Flagstaff’s Constitutional Rights?

On June 2, the Council will discuss joining the Flagstaff Living Wage Coalition’s legal action challenging the constitutionality of ARS 23-204, which preempts local authority to regulate compensation and benefits contrary to voter adopted Proposition 202.

Email council@flagstaffaz.gov and come to the Council meeting on June 2 at 6 pm to ask the councilmembers to defend the City’s constitutional rights against the State’s overreach by becoming a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed by the Flagstaff Living Wage Coalition.

About the Merit of the Lawsuit

On April 10, 2015, the Flagstaff Living Wage Coalition (FLWC) in Maricopa County Superior Court filed a complaint seeking a declaration that local municipalities have the right to establish higher minimum wages than the current state minimum wage.

In 2006 the voters of Arizona passed Proposition 202. That proposition authorizes municipalities to establish local minimum wages and benefits as long as those wages are set at rates higher than the state minimum wage. (See codified in A.R.S. 23-364(I)). Pursuant to the Voter Protection Act, Prop. 202 cannot be repealed by the Arizona Legislature, and cannot be superseded or amended except by a 3/4ths super majority of each legislative house and then only if such law furthers the objectives of the referendum or initiative. (See Ariz. Const., Art. 4, pt. 1, Section 1, (6)(B)-(C), (14).

Yet in 2013, the Arizona Legislature adopted A.R.S. 23-204 by simple majority in each house.   The law was an end run around local control in the wage area attempting to reserve to the State only the regulation of employee compensation and benefit. It specifically sought to divest local governmental entities of the right to regulate local compensation or benefits.

Currently there are two laws in effect directly conflicting with each other–the voter approved referendum granting localities the right to set their own higher minimum wages, and the other attempting to take that right away. This conflict simply confuses local voters and municipalities that might want to establish higher local minimum wages by vote of city councils or voter initiative.

Reasons to join the Flagstaff Living Wage Coalition’s legal action

  1. The City has a standing in the case. When the City’s rights are infringed upon, the Council has an obligation to voters and taxpayers to defend Flagstaff’s interests. Flagstaff is a Charter City and the state legislators cannot illegally interfere with its rights rooted in the state constitution. This is no different than the Council and the City protecting its interests through litigation against other violations of the law.
  2. Joining the lawsuit would not cost taxpayers anything. The FLWC’s legal counsels offered to represent the City at no cost to the organization if it joins the legal action as a plaintiff.
  3. One of the City’s goals adopted in December 2014 is to minimize the number of working poor. Cleaning up the Arizona Revised Statutes would help advance the conversation about wages commensurate with local economic conditions and take action to improve lives of Flagstaff residents.


Facts about Wages

  1. What is the current minimum wage in Flagstaff?
    The current minimum wage in Flagstaff and the rest of Arizona is $8.05 per hour.
  2. Is the wage situation really so bad in Flagstaff? A national media outlet called Governing has recently reported that Flagstaff private-sector workers have the lowest estimated wages adjusted for cost of living in the entire nation. It is more expensive to live in Flagstaff than it is in New York City.
  3. Why should people who have good paying jobs care about minimum wages? In Arizona alone taxpayers subsidize low corporate wages to the tune of $4.5 billion. This is the hidden cost of poverty wages.
  4. What is the difference between minimum wage and living wage? At its height in 1968, federal minimum wage was 53 percent of the average U.S. production worker wage. Today it is only 35 percent. If the minimum wage had been pegged to inflation since 1968 it would be $9.54 per hour. If pegged to the growth in average wages it would be $10.54 per hour. If pegged to productivity growth it would be $18 per hour. The wage floor should be high enough to lift working people from poverty, to give dignity to work, and to meet workers’ basic needs without government assistance. Cost of living varies from community to community therefore living wage should reflect local conditions.
  5. What other cities have set their own minimum wage? Over the past ten years many cities around the nation have done this. Some examples are Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Las Cruces, NM; Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Berkeley, CA; Seattle, WA; Chicago, IL; New York City, NY; Montgomery County, MD; and Washington, DC.
  6. What effect will a higher minimum wage have on business and employment in Flagstaff? Studies show that higher wages mean more money spent on local businesses, a reduction in poverty, and a healthier economy. It has little to no effect on employment.
  7. How would you respond to an argument that we should focus on attracting or expanding higher wage businesses rather than increasing the minimum wage? Establishing higher minimum wage and attracting higher wage businesses are not mutually exclusive efforts. As long as tourism and retail continue to be significant employment sectors in Flagstaff, people employed in related occupations will have a hard time making ends meet without raising minimum wages.
  8. Aren’t most of the low-wage workers teenagers and college students holding their first job? The Current Population Survey, a monthly review conducted by the Census Bureau estimates that nationally 60 percent of low wage workers (earning less than $10.10) are 25 years old or older. An increasing number of low wage workers are also not just supporting themselves. In Flagstaff we have more than 1,100 housekeepers and additional 650 hotel clerks. These workers have families and their jobs are life-long professions.
  9. What are examples of low wage occupations and how many people in Flagstaff are employed in these occupations? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Flagstaff Metropolitan Area employs about 56,000 people. About 7,000 of them work in occupations with wages well below $10. Examples of low wage occupations include various food preparation and serving related occupations, maids and housekeeping cleaners, retail salespersons, but also substitute teachers and clerical workers.