- Associated Press - Thursday, July 7, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Supporters of raising Arizona’s minimum wage delivered more than 270,000 signatures Thursday in their bid get a measure on the ballot that would raise the rate to $12 per hour by 2020 and provide earned sick days to workers.

Organizers showcased more than three dozen boxes of petitions in front of the state Capitol before filing them with the Secretary of State’s Office. The Arizona Healthy Working Families initiative needed roughly 150,000 valid signatures to qualify.

The increase will help businesses money in the form of less employee turnover and more worker loyalty, deputy campaign manager Tomas Robles said. “That is the way to save money - to treat your employees with respect and provide them with the benefits they need,” Robles said.

Arizona’s current minimum wage is $8.05, just above the federal minimum of $7.25, and it’s increased annually based on inflation.

Under the measure, the minimum wage would rise to $10 on Jan. 1, 2017, and then $12 in 2020. Also, employees who work at least 30 hours per week would be eligible to earn between three and five sick days. The paid sick days would also be good if a worker needed to take care of a family member.

Matt Roberts, spokesman for the Arizona Secretary of State, said it will take the office about three to four weeks to process all the signatures.

According to Robles, 110 businesses have thrown their support behind the initiative. But business-oriented groups have been expressing pushback, setting the stage for a fight between worker frustration and what businesses can afford to do.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry says employers will be forced to pay an extreme hike in costs to cover the measure’s demands.

“Employers could lay off employees, raise prices, institute hiring freezes, invest in automation that will make employees unnecessary, or even close up shop,” Chamber of Commerce CEO Glenn Hamer said in a statement. “Arizona already has a minimum wage above the federal government’s that adjusts annually based on a rise in the cost of living.”

Robles pointed to how the raise would be gradually added in four years. “I believe that the increase is not a detriment to many businesses. Many other states are already approving it,” he said.

Raising the minimum wage will be an issue placed before voters in three other states this fall, including Washington, Maine and Colorado. Both Maine and Colorado are also proposing a gradual increase to $12 by 2020. In Washington state, a proposed measure would increase the state’s rate to $13.50 an hour over the next four years.

In April, California and New York moved to push their statewide minimum wages to $15 an hour, believed to be the highest in the nation. The new wage takes effect in California by 2022. Oregon officials already plan to increase the minimum to $14.75 an hour in cities and $12.50 in rural areas by 2022.

A Republican-backed measure that would have raised Arizona’s wage failed in the Legislature in May. That initiative would have set the minimum wage at $9.50 by 2020 with annual inflation adjustments, but decrease the proportion of wages tipped employees earn. Cities, towns and counties would have lost their current ability to set minimum wages higher than the state minimum.


Follow Terry Tang at https://twitter.com/ttangAP

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