Below is an impassioned letter that AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami sent to all 40 members of the Alaska state House about rumors of lobbying efforts to pass HB 384, a minimum wage increase, and urging a no vote on the bill. Beltrami said that he never thought he’d write a letter opposing wage increases, but he’s doing so because the bill in the Legislature being debated to increase those wages is a ruse and an “assault on our democratic process.”
An initiative increasing minimum wage is slated to appear on the ballot in August, along with a repeal of an oil tax bill that was passed last legislative session. The thinking is that those who support the oil tax reform and don’t want it repealed also don’t want the two issues to be on the same ballot. The minimum wage initiative has broad support, particularly among those who might be inclined to vote for repealing the tax bill. And it will likely draw those voters to the polls. However, if the Legislature passes a bill that’s substantially similar, it would take it off the ballot. Then, the thinking is, the Legislature can then come back and gut it, as it did in 2002-2003 in a similar maneuver.
Beltrami said that he heard that representatives of the oil and gas industry were lobbying for the bill, and that such lobbying efforts came as a “shock” to him that industry was trying to “toy with what should be a sacred election process and help them rig the game against Alaska’s voting public.”
The letter appears to have originated from a conversation on Monday in the halls of the Capitol Building between lobbyists and Doug Smith, president of the oil field services company Little Red Services, and Rebecca Logan, the manager of the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, a pro-oil industry group. In an interview, Smith said that he was discussing his support generally for raising the minimum wage, but he was there to give a presentation to the Senate Finance Committee, not to lobby for the bill.
Likewise, Logan said that she was “absolutely not” lobbying for the bill and that the Alliance has stayed neutral.
The Alaska Oil and Gas Association, which represents many energy companies in the state, has also remained neutral.
Political maneuvering aside, Smith said that because of the broad public support for the issue, and because we elect lawmakers to mirror the public’s view, he thinks that the bill belongs in the Legislature.
If the Legislature isn’t willing to vote fairly on the issue, then “maybe have the wrong legislators,” he said.
The bill is currently being debated in the House.
Here’s Beltrami’s letter in full:
I am writing to you to address a concern I’ve heard from some well-intentioned House members. Right up front I have to say I’ve never had to write a letter like this in my life. I suppose sometimes extreme actions draw extreme reactions.
As you are all too well aware, HB 384 is up for consideration in the House. The Alaska AFL-CIO and hundreds of Alaskans were heavily involved in gathering signatures for Ballot Initiative #3 so that Alaskans can exercise their right to vote to bring the minimum wage back up to where it belonged, as it would currently be $9.53 an hour had the Legislature not acted in bad faith in 2002-2003.
HB 384 is an obvious attempt to circumvent the election and undermine the ability of Alaska voters to vote on it at the ballot box.
Recently, much has been in the news about what happened with this identical issue in 2002-2003, when the Legislature kept the ballot initiative off the ballot by passing their own bill, and came back the next year and gutted it, in an act of utter cynicism and disrespect to Alaska voters.
It is a well founded and justifiable fear the Legislature would do the same thing again, given the opportunity. Another suspected motive for keeping it off the ballot is that backers of last year’s oil rewrite (SB21) don’t want the minimum wage initiative on the same ballot as the referendum on SB21, fearing those who would come out to vote for a minimum wage increase would also vote to repeal SB21. But at best it’s been a whisper campaign.
So it came as somewhat of a shock to hear that a couple representatives of the oil and gas industry were down in Juneau lobbying for the minimum wage bill, HB384, and specifically saying that the reason is because they do not want it on the ballot with the SB21 referendum.
This is an assault on our democratic process. Folks who advocate for the richest industry on the planet, that gained even greater wealth from the Legislature through significant tax relief last year, are back again to convince you to toy with what should be a sacred election process and help them rig the game against Alaska’s voting public. To my knowledge industry has never advocated for increased wages for low-wage workers in the history of the United States. This is brazen. They are, in no uncertain terms, asking you to clear the deck and silence any opposition to them, and to abuse the legislative process to do so.
So here is the part I referred to in my opening paragraph. The Alaska AFL-CIO is the largest labor organization and biggest advocate on the rights of workers in this state. We do not make a profit or answer to shareholders or corporate board members. We answer to our worker members only, and we advocate for all workers whether they belong to a union or not. We are advocating a NO vote on increasing the minimum wage in this legislature, in this year. I never thought I would ever say those words. But the legislature’s record, and now murmurs of industry advocacy, as well as the rights of people to vote to determine their own destinies all seem crystal clear in this moment.
If you vote NO on HB 384 you will be making the vote supported by the voices of working people and thereby allowing Alaskans to exercise their right and vote on the subject at the ballot box as they petitioned their government to do with more than 43,000 signatures.
I have heard it said by some legislators that they don’t know how they can vote against an increase in the minimum wage when they support such a raise. It is a reasonable question, and I feel compelled to explain what we think our position means.
We, as an organization, will recognize positively those who vote NO on HB 384 as legislators who truly supported an increase to the minimum wage, who didn’t support passing legislation just to keep it off the ballot, and who respected the rights of voters to make the choice on whether to increase the minimum wage or not.
Please respect the ballot initiative process. Let Alaska voters decide this issue. Please vote NO on HB 384.
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