Issues going on the ballot

The freedom of reproductive choice in Ohio. Legalizing recreational marijuana in Ohio. Ending Qualified Immunity in Ohio.

Those are all citizen-led ballot initiatives currently seeking to amend the Ohio constitution, and one initiative that may someday be jumpstarted by (progressive) Ohioans is ending the sales of Army and mass shooter guns.

As many know, the GOP-besieged Statehouse is trying to stop these citizen initiatives with Issue 1, which will be put to a statewide vote in August. If Issue 1 passes a 60 percent supermajority will be needed to change the Ohio constitution instead of a simple majority rule of 50 percent (among other changes making it more difficult to get a citizen initiative on a ballot). 

Some good news this week is how the Ohio Supreme Court ordered Issue 1 to be re-written due to inaccurate and misleading language. A ruling The Ohio Coalition to End Qualified Immunity (OCTEQI) applauds with “just deserts” for the Ohio GOP considering the Ohio Attorney General’s office has made the OCTEQI rewrite its ballot language several times due to “misleading language.” Qualified Immunity is the legal loophole making it nearly impossible to win a civil suit against law enforcement when constitutional rights are violated. 

“The Attorney General and Republican Dave Yost lacks integrity, accountability and transparency,” said OCTEQI spokesperson Cynthia Brown who lost a nephew to Columbus police. “Double standards are perfectly fine for him to say it is ‘perfectly fine’ for Issue 1 to be misleading, but he has purposely denied the OCTEQI citizen led constitutional ballot summary for being misleading.”

There are other citizen-led ballot initiatives in the crosshairs of Issue 1. Put more bluntly, in the crosshairs of the Ohio GOP and their ultra-rich older white guy backers. Notably is a statewide effort to raise Ohio’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026.

Raise the Wage Ohio” – which is supported nationally by One Fair Wage – is currently collecting the necessary 400,000-plus signatures needed to get their amendment on a statewide ballot, and they are eyeing 2024 for a vote. Behind Ohio’s effort are several of Ohio’s most noteworthy progressive groups and labor unions, such as Ohio Organizing Collaborative and SEIU. The current minimum wage in Ohio is $10.10 an hour.

The amendment would also repeal state law that allows service sector employers to pay tipped employees less than half the minimum wage ($5.05 an hour). There are nearly 520,000 foodservice workers in Ohio, many working in the state’s 23,000 restaurants.

“Our aim throughout the states we are in is to raise the minimum wage but also eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped workers, who, depending on the states, are sometimes earning as low as $2.13 an hour and in Ohio it’s $5.05,” said Maricela Gutierrez, spokesperson for Raise the Wage Ohio. “Tips have been really down during COVID. Hundreds of workers are telling us, ‘That sometimes customers leave, and they don’t tip us, and we can’t run after them and let them know we get $5 an hour.’”

The amendment would require that by 2029, an employer will pay an employee who receives tips the state’s full minimum wage rate on top of tips.

Gutierrez adds, “The folks that are affected are primarily women and it also affects a lot of women of color. A lot of folks also think that a lot of people in these positions are teenagers, and that’s also not true. Most people in these positions are over 25 years old with real bills to pay. And all we’re asking for is equity so that you get your regular wage plus tips because you don’t always get tipped by everybody.”

Gutierrez agrees Issue 1 is not just about squashing reproductive rights.

“There are two routes for democracy. You can vote for legislators who will represent your interests, or you hope they will. And the other route is direct democracy where you collect enough signatures, you get it on the ballot, and you vote yourself,” she says. “And like a lot of progressive initiatives, you go through the ballot initiative process, talk to hundreds-of-thousands of people, and it is time consuming and costly. And what’s happening now in Ohio, they are limiting this route for direct democracy for citizens themselves to make the changes they want.”

Last week the Ohio Restaurant Association (ORA) came out in support of Issue 1. There are big players on ORA’s board, such as Wendy’s and White Castle. Also sitting on the board is Cameron Mitchell Restaurants. Some waiters at high-end restaurants have concerns over raising Ohio’s tipped hourly wage.

“When it comes to tipped employees, I think everybody in the business has mixed feelings about the negative impact an elevated minimum wage might have on tipped employees,” said a service sector worker from Columbus who wished to remain anonymous. “I generally average $30 bucks an hour over the course of a year. Yeah, I had weeks where the money was thin, but I also had nights where I made a grand in four hours. I do support liberal concepts like paying a living wage. I even support the concept of universal basic income, but bumping server wages up without performing due diligence on the collateral consequences is reckless. I think you would end up hurting more servers than you help.”

Gutierrez puts it succinctly, “there’s not a lot of high-end restaurants.”

“There are seven states that already have a regular wage plus tips. And tips have remained the same or are more in those seven states because America has a culture of tipping,” she says. “Workers themselves also know that customers who come in don’t know you’re making a subminimum wage. They don’t know you’re making $5 an hour. They’re not calculating your tips based on how much you get in wages. They think you make regular. What we’re asking for is a regular wage plus your tips on top.”