SD Democrats, labor will work to block $7.50 youth minimum wage law through voter initiative

The South Dakota Democratic Party and at least one union group that successfully pushed for a voter-approved minimum wage hike last year are preparing to join opponents of a lawmaker-approved $7.50 youth minimum wage law who are working to block it from going into effect.

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The state Democratic Party and the Teamsters are hoping to stop the youth minimum wage measure that the Legislature passed this year, saying it goes against what South Dakota voters want.

The Democratic Party plans a campaign to refer the youth minimum wage law to the ballot, Chairwoman Ann Tornberg said. Teamsters Local 120 also plans to join the campaign, which requires activists to secure 13,871 signatures from registered South Dakota voters and submit them to the secretary of state's office by June 29 to put the issue on the 2016 ballot.

The state's AFL-CIO union is expected to join the fight, but Mark Anderson, president and financial secretary, said last week the organization needs to take an official position. Anderson didn't respond to a request for comment Monday.

Liberal activist Cory Heidelberger already filed a petition in late March to begin such a campaign.

Residents voted 55 percent to 45 percent in November for the a measure that raised the minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $8.50, increased the $2.13 hourly tip wage to half the minimum wage, and tied future increases to the cost of living. The law passed by the Legislature carves a $7.50 hourly wage for people under 18 and isn't tied to future cost-of-living increases.

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Securing the signatures would block the youth minimum wage law from going into effect until after the 2016 election. Exempting youth workers from the new minimum wage was one of the most vigorously debated bills of the 2015 legislative session, and Gov. Dennis Daugaard has said he carefully considered the plan before he ultimately signed it into law on March 20. If activists are unsuccessful in getting the required signatures by the end of June, the law would take effect on July 1.

Daugaard has said that the campaign for the $8.50 wage hike focused on adult workers who support a family, not on young workers.

But Tornberg said she believes South Dakota residents knew what they were voting for.

"The minimum wage is certainly about equity. It's about fairness ... and it's about respecting the will of the voters," Tornberg said.

Republican Sen. David Novstrup, who sponsored the youth minimum wage bill, said it's "about making sure that young people have an opportunity for their first job."

"That's a tool that they can use," Novstrup said of sending the law to voters for their review. "I am, I guess, disappointed by it, but it is part of the process. The debate continues."