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Oklahoma State Chamber, Farm Bureau challenge effort to raise minimum wage

Kenny Eliason

A proposed state question to raise Oklahoma’s hourly minimum wage to $15 faces its first legal challenge.

The State Chamber of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Farm Bureau Legal Foundation asked the state’s high court on Monday to find the proposal unconstitutional for delegating state lawmakers’ power to officials at a federal agency.

Proposed State Question 832 proposes a staggered approach to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2029. After that, the measure proposes raising the minimum wage annually based on cost of living increases as measured by the U.S. Department of Labor’ Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers.

The state’s hourly minimum wage is currently $7.25.

The State Chamber and the Farm Bureau took issue with the idea of tying the state’s minimum wage to cost of living hikes when living costs in Oklahoma are typically low compared to other states.

Many of the State Chamber’s member companies already pay above the minimum wage and have no interest in suppressing worker wages, said Chad Warmington, the group’s president and CEO.

“What is a major concern to us is the automatic, open-ended increase being linked to a federal government produced index that is based upon cost-of-living rates in cities like New York or San Francisco,” he said in a news release. “Those areas are not reflective of the actual cost of living in Oklahoma. This ill-conceived plan would give Oklahomans no opportunity to adjust or halt these automatic increases.”

The State Chamber counts about 600 Oklahoma businesses as members.

The legal challenge will at least temporarily block proponents of the state question from gathering the 92,262 signatures required to qualify the measure for a statewide vote.

Hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans working full-time jobs are struggling to get by due to the skyrocketing cost of groceries, gas and housing, Raise the Wage Oklahoma campaign spokesperson Amber England said in a statement.

“If the monied interests behind the State Chamber want to be on record opposing giving hard-working Oklahomans a raise, that’s on them,” she said. “Raise the Wage Oklahoma stands firm in our belief that Oklahomans who work for a living should earn a living.”

The Rev. Kelsey Cobbs, of El Reno, and Dustin Phelan, the business manager of a Tulsa-area chapter of an electrical workers union, filed the proposed state question in October.

Legislative Democrats, who are in the minority in the Oklahoma Legislature, have for years unsuccessfully advocated for raising the state’s minimum wage.

Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence.

Carmen covers state government, politics and health care for Oklahoma Voice. A Norman native, she previously worked in Arizona and Virginia before she began reporting on the Oklahoma Capitol.
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