No city or county in Oklahoma will be allowed to set their own mandatory minimum wage or employee benefits, according to a law signed by Republican Governor Mary Fallin on Monday.
The new law, formerly known as Senate Bill 1023, comes amid a nationwide movement pushing lawmakers to raise the minimum wage across the US. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, although a number of states have raised their standard and US President Obama proposed raising the national minimum to $10.10.
Conservative leaders have opposed such measures, saying that such an influx in payroll expenses would be problematic for businesses.
“Senate Bill 1023 protects our economy from bad public policy that would destroy Oklahoma jobs,” Governor Fallin said in a prepared statement on Monday, as quoted by the Oklahoman. “Mandating a minimum wage increase at the local level would drive businesses to other communities and states, and would raise prices for consumers.”
Rep. Randy Grau, also a Republican, supported the House version of the bill, telling the Associated Press that such legislation is essential for state businesses.
“This bill provides a level playing field for all municipalities in Oklahoma,” he said. “An artificial raise in the minimum wage could derail local economies in a matter of months. This is a fair measure for consumers, workers and small business owners.”
The law’s opponents are not buying any such rationale. Attorney David Slane, with help from the Central Oklahoma Labor Federation, is circulating a petition throughout the state to raise Oklahoma's minimum wage to $10.10. The document needs to reach 80,000 signatures to go to a statewide ballot initiative. Oklahoma's population was estimated at 3.9 million in 2013.
“Of course we’re disappointed that the governor and the Republican Legislature stood in the way of the people having the right to vote on whether they want to raise the minimum wage,” Slane told the Oklahoman. “We’re looking now at the possibility of a constitutional challenge to the law that was signed because we think that it abrogates the people’s right to have an initiative petition...We’re going to explore all options, including the possibility of a statewide initiative petition.”
The US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report earlier this year warning that raising the minimum wage could lead to 500,000 layoffs throughout the US. Fallin cited this aspect of the report, claiming she hopes to protect workers from losing their jobs.
“Most minimum wage workers are young, single people working part-time or entry-level jobs,” she said. “Mandating an increase in the minimum wage would require businesses to fire many of those part-time workers. It would create a hardship for small business owners, stifle job creation and increase costs for consumers.”
Yet the governor neglected to mention the part of the CBO report which says that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would lift no fewer than 900,000 Americans out of poverty, while boosting collective earnings by $31 billion for 33 million low-income earners.
President Obama simplified the matter two months ago when he raised the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10. The executive order goes into effect next year and prevents contractors from being paid less than others if they have disabilities affecting their productivity.
“Raising the minimum wage is good for business, it’s good for workers and it’s good for the economy,” Obama said. “It’s the right thing to do.”