Raise the Wage Ohio is Trying to Get a Minimum Wage Constitutional Amendment on the Ballot

~Article from the Ohio Capital Journal by Megan Henry~

Ohioans could have a chance vote to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026.

Raise the Wage Ohio is collecting signatures to put a proposed constitutional amendment on this year’s ballot that would raise the minimum wage to $12.75 an hour starting Jan. 1, 2025, and then it would go up to $15 an hour starting on Jan. 1, 2026. It would also get rid of Ohio’s tipped wage.

Ohio’s current minimum wage is $10.45 an hour for non-tipped employees and $5.25 for tipped employees.

“We’re going to be raising wages for 1.4 million Ohioans immediately,” said Mariah Ross, the executive director of One Fair Wage. “Minimum wage will give everyone a bump. It will make it a livable wage.”

They need to collect more than 413,000 signatures by July and they currently have more then 350,000 signatures, she said.

“The basic necessities that will be covered by $15 an hour minimum wage just include very basic things like food, housing, transportation, … child care, health care,” she said. “It’s very basic things.”

Full-workers in Ohio need to earn $19.09 per hour to afford a 2-bedroom apartment, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO).

But Ohio’s restaurant industry opposes raising the minimum wage — arguing it would hurt tipped workers.

“(Servers and bartenders) are very concerned that their income would go down as a result of all this,” said John Barker, President & CEO of the Ohio Restaurant & Hospitality Alliance.

Ross disagrees, saying raising the minimum wage will only help tipped workers.

“They’d make more money,” she said. “We’re not trying to take away tips.”

Under the ballot initiative, Ross said restaurants would have until 2029 to pay all their employees the state minimum wage to give them more time to accommodate the change.

“They have approximately four years to adjust their plans and do incremental increases to get whatever the minimum wage will be in 2029,” Ross said. “This is a time to adjust because we’re not here to hurt small businesses. We’re here to help small businesses. … For a restaurant to say that I can’t afford to pay my workers that, that is just unacceptable.”

Many restaurant servers who rely on tips have been harassed, she said.

“When you have to rely on your customers or consumers for your livelihood, you can’t really speak out against this harassment or these injustices,” she said.“Without the workers there would not be a business, so we have both a moral obligation but also an obligation as Ohioans to support our economy and for the long term for the restaurant industry. It’s better to pay livable wages.”

More than 90% of the servers and bartenders the Ohio Restaurant & Hospitality Alliance have talked don’t support raising the minimum wage, Barker said.

An employer in Ohio can pay tipped employees half the starting wage, so tipped employees are guaranteed to receive the full minimum wage, but most earn a lot more through tipping.

The national median income for tipped servers is $27 an hour and Ohio’s income for tipped servers typically ranges from $19 an hour all the way up to $41 an hour, Barker said.

“They’re very concerned about what this would do to them because it defies logic that if all these wages that the restaurants have to pay go up so significantly, the restaurants have to bear that and that has to get passed on to consumers,” he said.

That means consumers would likely see one of two things — higher menu prices or a service charge on their bill that goes back to the restaurant, Barker said.

“We just don’t believe that people are going to tip generously on top of all that because we’ve already seen massive inflation in food,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult to continue to raise prices.”

Food costs have gone up by 25% in the past couple of years while the restaurant industry continues to recover from the pandemic, Barker said.

“It’s such a very difficult time for the industry,” he said.

If this passed, restaurant operators could cut their workforce and reduce employee benefits, according to Ohio Restaurant & Hospitality Alliance.

2006 constitutional amendment

Ohioans passed a citizen initiated constitutional amendment in 2006 that raised the state minimum wage to $6.85 per hour. It has raised the minimum wage each year after that based on the consumer price index.

Ross said this year’s ballot initiative would update the 2006 constitutional amendment.

“The cost of living has outpaced that incremental increase that we got in 2006,” she said.

Ohio’s minimum wage for non-tipped employees went up 35 cents and 20 cents for tipped workers this year.

“Even with these incremental increases, it hasn’t been enough because of the rapid cost of living increases that have been exacerbated by COVID-19, so we need a bump,” Ross said.

Minimum wage in other states

California’s mandatory $20 an hour minimum wage for fast-food workers recently took effect.

Washington D.C. overwhelmingly voted to gradually get rid of the special minimum wage for tipped employees in the 2022 election and it went into effect on Feb. 23, 2023. The tipped wage will be eliminated in D.C. by July 2027.

But full service D.C. restaurants cut 3,700 jobs from May 2023 to January 2024, and a poll of nearly 1,000 D.C.-area adults showed more than half were dining out less because of higher prices and were more reluctant to tip, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on X.

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