Arizona Minimum Wage Ballot Initiative

Arizona has a ballot initiative here in November to raise the minimum wage to $6.75.  Perhaps more worrisome, the law has been structured to raise the rate every year based on some cost of living increase.  (As an aside - these cost of living escalators in government-mandated wage rates are insanely recursive.  The government raises wages, which increases prices, which leads to a further increase of the statutory rate).  An Arizona group opposed to the initiative has put out a nice Word document with the proposed laws language annotated with facts and refutations.

I will not be coy and pretend that I don't have an interest in this question.  The campgrounds we operate on public lands were run by volunteers in the past, until the courts decided that private companies were not legally allowed to use volunteers.  Most of our camp hosts, who tend to be in their 70's or older (we have many employees in their eighties and a few in their nineties!) get paid minimum wage plus a camp site in a nice park for the summer (the latter is what they really want).  Unlike private campgrounds that are built to be efficient to operate, the public campgrounds we operate tend to be small and labor-intensive.

We make about a 5% profit on sales in the camping business (yes, I know that is pathetically low).  Labor is 60-70% of our costs, if you include costs that are directly tied to wages like payroll taxes and workers comp. premiums.  This law would raise the minimum wage by 31%.  You do the math.  In a stroke, this ballot initiative would raise our costs by 20% (.31 x .65) in a business where costs are 95% of revenues.  Something has to give.  I am not going to work the hours I work and run the business for charity.  A 5% margin is almost there already.  We are therefore planning for two different contingencies.

  1. Camping fees will have to rise by approximately 20%.  This means that a camping fee of $16 will go up by $3.  I will not make any more money, this will all be a pass-through to my employees, most of whom really wanted to volunteer in the first place.  One could rename this ballot initiative the "vote yourself a camping fee increase" initiative.  A few years ago, an attempt to raise lodging taxes on camping by a few percent met with howls of opposition.  But in effect this is ballot initiative in in effect adding a 20% tax to camping fees.

  2. My labor model of hiring retired people may well have to change.  There is a real trade-off in hiring retired folks to maintain campgrounds.  On the plus side, we get a lot of honest and responsible people who have the time and the flexibility in their life to pick up stakes and go live in a campground all summer.  The down side, of course, someone who is 75, or 85, is not going to work as fast or as productively as younger folks.  My workers also tend to get injured more easily (my insurance company freaks every time it sees my employee list with dates of birth) which costs a lot in workes comp. premiums.

    When presented with the choice in the current market of hiring a retired person at $5.15 an hour or a younger, faster worker at $7.50 an hour, I have been happy to hire retired people.  This model has worked great for us.  Unfortunately, I must revisit this business model when my choice is between hiring a faster worker at $7.50 and a slower worker at $6.75 (and rising).  Already in high minimum wage states like CA, OR, and WA we have begun shifting away from hiring as many retired people.  I also hire a lot fewer people, having invested in automated fee collection in high labor cost areas.  (Think about this, at least for a few seconds, before all of you start sending me the inevitable emails I get for being a heartless brute for paying anyone minimum wage).

By the way, the federal government gets around this problem for the campgrounds it operates itself.   How?  Why, it exempts itself from these laws.  Most federal campgrounds employ retired persons as volunteers.  They don't pay campground workers minimum wage, they pay them ZERO.

I wrote a much longer post on minimum wage laws here.  Minimum wage laws are becoming hip in traditionally red-state border areas as a tool to keep immigrants from working.

Update:  I actually underestimated the amount of my costs directly tied to wages, and so I have updated some of the numbers to be more realistic.

  • http://smilerz91.blogspot.com smilerz

    People are not allowed to volunteer for for-profit companies? That's insane!

  • dearieme

    If there is an exemption for family labour, perhaps you should adopt the old folks?

  • http://comuse.blogspot.com Allen

    The damage of things like this goes deeper than the numbers. My grandma is in her mid-80s and still works from time to time cleaning at the local hospital. This isn't exactly easy work. And she did it full-time until just a year and half ago. I'm happy she retired from it. But more so I'm happy that she still covers shifts for people every now and then. It gives her a chance to get out and socialize with people.

  • Noumenon

    "Most of our camp hosts, who tend to be in their 70's or older (we have many employees in their eighties and a few in their nineties!) get paid minimum wage plus a camp site in a nice park for the summer (the latter is what they really want)."

    Doesn't that make it extremely easy for you to avoid the effects of the law? "Due to a minimum wage increase, you will all be earning an additional $25 per week. In an unrelated announcement, our camp sites available for employees will no longer be free, but instead available for a reduced rent of $25 per week."