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Ohio Republicans introduce bill to stop Nov. ballot proposal to increase minimum wage to $15

Ohio fight for $15 minimum wage, raise the wage
Posted at 8:20 PM, May 02, 2024

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Advocates are gearing up to put a proposal on the November ballot to increase the minimum wage in Ohio to $15, which has led state Republicans to introduce their own wage-hike bill to "fend off" the constitutional amendment.

Ohioans have been debating minimum wage for years.

"I think everybody should at least get $15 an hour," Akron resident Brandon Haverlick said.

It's something Haverlick wishes could happen now. Currently, Ohio’s minimum wage is $10.45 for non-tipped workers and $5.25 for tipped.

With inflation continuing to rise, Policy Matters Ohio economist Michael Shields said something needs to change — and it's state law.

"It's a measure that would both bring us closer to the cost of living in terms of the wage that everybody is taking home — and also make our labor market more fair," Shields said.

He is part of the movement, trying to increase the minimum wage to $15 for both non-tipped and tipped workers.

While the group Raise the Wage is collecting signatures to get on the Nov. ballot, state Sen. Bill Blessing (R-Colerain Township) has introduced a new bill that he admits is an attempt to stop the constitutional amendment.

"I think it is a good faith effort by the General Assembly to say, 'Okay, let's meet the voters where they're at, even if it's something that wouldn't have otherwise occurred,'" Blessing, a moderate Republican, said.

The idea for the bill was brought up in caucus, he said, saying he would take it on and look for a balance for each side. He shared that restaurant groups wrote the wage portion of the bill, but he is still trying to find a middle ground.

Senate Bill 256 would raise the minimum wage for non-tipped workers to $15 and tipped to $7.50 by 2028.

He thinks everyone, including tipped workers, would be better off choosing this over the amendment.

"Why would they want to support your legislation versus the one that would give them more money?" I asked him.

"That's a great question — apparently there are a number of servers out there that make significantly more than the potential $15 minimum wage. They view it as 'Well if you get rid of the tipped wage, even if you do it slowly, people won't be inclined to tip,'" the lawmaker responded.

Akron resident Wil Cabrera understands this argument since servers can make more money in tips than just $15, he said.

"They make over $38 an hour, possibly, if they have a good day," he said.

News 5 spoke to numerous wait staff who do make more than $40 an hour — but those servers are the anomaly, according to Shields.

"Waiters and waitresses in Ohio make $13 and change at the median," he said, citing his recent research into tipped labor. "Although tips do give folks earnings potential, right now, their employers are allowed to claim some of those tips as an offset."

Mariah Ross, the campaign manager for Raise the Wage Ohio and One Fair Wage, said the Senate bill is just a "trick" meant to "confuse people."

"At the end of the day, Ohioans are not fools," Ross said. "They know what is happening in their state; they know what they're currently experiencing and they know what is happening right now — pay is not sustainable."

She explains that server tips do not decrease when servers get paid more, citing a study from Minnesota.

Some in the restaurant industry fear raising the minimum wage could change tipping culture and impact operations.

Would raising the minimum wage hurt or help tipped employees?

RELATED: Would raising the minimum wage hurt or help tipped employees?

The Ohio Restaurant and Hospitality Alliance isn't on board with the amendment, they told us in January.

“They don't want to see the tip wage eliminated. It's so critical to their business,” said John Barker, the president and CEO, said.

Barker said restaurants are still trying to stay afloat following the pandemic and inflation that's at an all-time high. If the wages are raised, some businesses will have no choice but to increase menu costs to manage.

“The repercussions of this are going to be really felt by the consumer, and they're nervous about that...because they try to provide good value to their customers right now,” Barker added.

Timing

Blessing has support in the Senate, he said. Although he is encouraged that Blessing cares about this issue, Shields said the amendment is the better option. He argued the people need to take this issue into their own hands — through the Constitution — because lawmakers can’t change it. Legislators can always change a bill if they want to.

"[They can] go in and take away wage protections that Ohio voters want and have supported," Shields said.

The timing is also "telling," he added.

"The reality is, the state legislature has the opportunity to pass a higher minimum wage at any time — they have not taken it," he said. "There is a measure introduced in the state legislature every legislative session to raise the minimum wage."

State Sen. Kent Smith (D-Euclid) introduced said bill in 2023. Although he respects Blessing for not lying about the intention of the bill, he said if the Republicans didn't have "sketchy motives," they would have been cosponsoring his legislation.

"They're scared about losing another ballot initiative," Smith said.

The Ohio GOP, as a whole, was 0-3 on succeeding at the polls in 2023. Of course, plenty of Republicans strayed from the masses on each of the issues — but it was a major year of loss for them. They lost on changing majority rule, abortion access and marijuana legalization.

Smith said he doesn't trust his party not to change the legislation say it were to pass.

Fair argument, Blessing responded.

"They're right, that could happen," the Republican said. "I think something like this will pass the ballot and if the General Assembly found a way to do this legislatively and avoid that, recognizing where Ohioans typically stand on these things, I don't think that they would repeal it," he said.

But Ohioans have recent evidence that argument is wishful thinking, House Democrats have told me.

The Senate dramatically altered the recreational marijuana statute after voters passed it, enough so that the House refuses to touch the legislation because it goes "against the will of the people."

RELATED: Republican squabbling keeps marijuana off shelves months after legalization

"What we're talking about is showing leadership and passing something that will meet the voters where they're at or as close to that as we can surmise," Blessing said. "And fending off a potential ballot initiative in the process."

What else is in S.B. 256

Blessing added a refundable earned income tax credit (EITC), modeling it off of a model from Oregon, a deeply blue state.

For everyone, there would be a refundable EITC of 9%, but if you have a child under three years old, you would be eligible for 12% of the credit.

However, Ohio currently has a 30% non-refundable EITC, so the bill gives the option of whichever is better for the taxpayer.

"They can elect to take that because there are some people on the higher end of the EITC curve that the non-refundable may actually work better for them," Blessing explained.

What's next?

"Could passing the bill even happen this quickly?" I asked him, noting that the election is six months away.

"I'm not gonna mince words, it would be very difficult to get something like this through," Blessing responded, adding that the House is currently in "disarray."

The chamber leaders loathe each other, and bipartisan bills aren't even getting passed.

Hopefully, this will start some dialogue, though, he said.

Both Haverlick and Cabrera, despite making comments about the high tips, said they will vote to support the amendment in Nov. if it gets on.

"I think we all deserve to be up there right now," Cabrera said.

Raise the Wage needs about 415,000 valid signatures by July. Ross said they have already surpassed 400,000 and still have two months to get plenty more.

To learn more about the proposal, click or tap here.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.