State:
February 20, 2024
Initiative Petition to Increase Oklahoma’s Minimum Wage Faces Legal Challenge

by Michael Lauderdale

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On October 27, 2023, two individuals represented by attorney Melanie Wilson Rughani of the Oklahoma-based law firm Crowe & Dunlevy filed Initiative Petition No. 446, which proposes a dramatic increase in Oklahoma’s minimum wage over the coming years. But the petition faces a serious legal hurdle before it makes its way to the ballot.

Proposed Minimum Wage Increase

If passed by voters, the petition would raise the state’s minimum wage to $9/hour beginning in 2025, with successive annual increases resulting in a $15/hour minimum wage in 2029.

The petition further proposes that, beginning in 2030, the Oklahoma minimum wage would be increased annually based on the cost of living, as measured by the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Opposition

On November 20, 2023, the Oklahoma State Chamber and Oklahoma Farm Bureau Legal Foundation filed a protest with the Oklahoma Supreme Court asking it to declare the petition legally insufficient. They argue that a portion of the petition violates the Oklahoma Constitution, and the proposed wording of the ballot initiative is misleading.

On December 18, attorneys advocating for the petition filed a response, taking the position that “years of inaction by the state legislature have led the People of Oklahoma to take matters into their own hands” and asking that the challenge be denied.

If declared legally sufficient and ultimately approved by Oklahoma voters, the proposed petition would amend the Oklahoma Minimum Wage Act and apply to any group or groups of persons doing business with gross revenues of more than $100,000 annually. Accordingly, almost all Oklahoma employers would be subject to the increased minimum wage.

If Initiative Petition 446 proceeds to a vote and passes, most Oklahoma employers can likely expect overall payroll costs to increase significantly, both because of the increase in the minimum wage and as a result of the cascading effect of hourly workers who earn more than the minimum wage expecting a proportionate increase in their own wages.

Takeaway

Look for more updates as we continue to monitor this situation over the coming weeks.

Michael Lauderdale is an employment attorney and the managing director at McAfee & Taft. Michael’s practice focuses on civil litigation and on the representation of employers and management in all phases of litigation before federal and state courts, regulatory and administrative agencies, and arbitration panels. He can be reached in Oklahoma City at michael.lauderdale@mcafeetaft.com.

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