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Workers protest low wages in Washington, D.C.

Activists with One Fair Wage participate in a demonstration on May 26th, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

'Congress Needs to Get the Message': Nebraskans Vote to Raise Minimum Wage to $15 an Hour

"Voters did the right thing for workers and businesses," said one Nebraska business owner. "Raising the minimum wage will help our state build a stronger workforce and economy."

Jake Johnson

Nebraskans voted Tuesday to incrementally raise the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026 as corporate price hikes continue to eat into workers' paychecks and the federal wage floor remains stuck at a paltry $7.25.

The ballot measure, known as Initiative 433, succeeded by a vote of 58.2% to 41.8% despite opposition from influential corporate lobbying groups in the state, including the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce.

Starting in 2023, Nebraska's current $9 minimum wage will rise to $10.50 and increase by $1.50 every year until it reaches $15 an hour in 2026. Thereafter, the wage will be adjusted for inflation, which is currently at a four-decade high.

"We know from experience that fair pay drives hiring, employee retention, and the excellent service our customers count on."

While some Nebraska business organizations campaigned against Initiative 433—trotting out the well-worn and debunked argument that a minimum wage hike would come at the expense of jobs—more than 300 small business owners in the state publicly endorsed the ballot measure.

"Voters did the right thing for workers and businesses in passing Initiative 433," said Steph Terry, director of operations, Morrow Collision Center in Lincoln. "We know from experience that fair pay drives hiring, employee retention, and the excellent service our customers count on. Raising the minimum wage will help our state build a stronger workforce and economy."

Holly Sklar, CEO of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, said in a statement Wednesday that "minimum wage increases don't stay in workers' pockets."

"They go right back into communities as workers and their families have more to spend at local businesses," said Sklar. "Now Congress needs to get the message and raise the abysmal $7.25 federal minimum wage."

Since the national Fight for $15 movement began a decade ago, states, cities, and localities across the country have raised their minimum wages, delivering pay increases to tens of millions of workers amid continued federal inaction. The federal minimum wage has been stagnant for 13 years, keeping the wage floor low in a number of states.

The raise that Nebraska's minimum wage workers will see in 2023 will be the first since 2016, when the state minimum wage rose from $8 an hour to $9.

"Local businesses like mine depend on local spending," said Cinnamon Dokken, the owner of A Novel Idea Bookstore in Lincoln. "The last time Nebraska increased the minimum wage, our revenues grew and we raised our wages. We look forward to that again with the passage of Initiative 433. Raising the minimum wage will put more money in workers' pockets and foster the better job performance that is vital for small business competitiveness."

The minimum wage was also on the ballot elsewhere in the U.S. on Tuesday. In Washington, D.C., voters approved a ballot initiative that calls for raising the minimum wage for tipped workers from $5.35 per hour to $16.10 per hour by 2027.

A ballot measure in Portland, Maine that proposed raising the city's minimum wage to $18 an hour and eliminating the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers was rejected by voters, a defeat campaigners attributed to an aggressive corporate misinformation effort.

"The National Restaurant Association, Uber, and DoorDash poured in hundreds of thousands of dollars to spread misinformation and lies, confusing workers and voters," Saru Jayaraman, the president of One Fair Wage, said in a statement Wednesday. "We will keep fighting to get One Fair Wage in Maine, especially now with inflation making it hard for people to survive."

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