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Election results: higher wages, paid sick leave

Restaurateurs awoke this morning to a changed political landscape, but a more expensive one. Ballot proposals to raise the minimum wage were approved in five states, and Massachusetts residents passed a measure to mandate paid sick leave from most employers.

As a result of the voting, the minimum wage will increase in Arkansas (to $8.50 per hour as of 2017); Nebraska ($9, 2016); Alaska ($8.75, 2015); and South Dakota ($8.50, 2015.)

A referendum in San Francisco would raise the wage there to $15 by 2018, but votes were still being counted at press time. Pundits have predicted that the hike was approved. If so, the city would join Seattle in paying the highest wage in the nation.

Illinois voters approved a recommendation to hike the lowest legal wage to $10 per hour, but the measure is non-binding. It’s in effect a message to the legislature that the pay floor should be raised. It is widely viewed as giving wage-increase proponents the political cover to hammer through a hike, a controversial issue in the state’s bitterly contested gubernatorial race.

Both candidates, incumbent Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner, had supported an increase. However, Rauner, the victor in the race, is viewed as being measured in his support. In the past he had called for an abolition of the minimum wage and a loosening of regulations to allow younger teens to work.

In Massachusetts, 60 percent of voters gave a thumbs up to the paid sick leave initiative. The measure requires most employers in the state to grant workers one hour of paid time off for every 30 hours they work, to a maximum of 40 hours per year. Employers with fewer than 10 people on the payroll are exempted from the pay requirement, but must grant unpaid time off.

Two towns in New Jersey, Trenton and Montclair, passed local initiatives to require paid sick leave.

In other ballot developments of interest to restaurateurs, voters in Washington, D.C., and Oregon approved the legalization of recreational marijuana use. The legalization of pot in Colorado is widely seen as a key reason for a restaurant boom there.

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