BISMARCK - The chief backer of a ballot measure to raise North Dakota's minimum wage isn't holding out much hope that organizers will be able to attract enough signatures to put the question to voters this fall.
Bismarck's Scott Nodland said Tuesday, June 5, the effort is lacking volunteers to collect signatures, but most people they approach are receptive to the idea of boosting the minimum wage.
"It's the first run, and it's the first time that people are hearing about the possibility of a $15 minimum wage," he said.
The campaign had gathered roughly 2,000 signatures as of May 2, Nodland wrote on its Facebook page, far short of the 13,452 needed by July 9. He was unsure how many the campaign had attracted as of Tuesday.
Still, Nodland said they'll continue to gather signatures to grow awareness and let "people know that we've left a bunch of people behind."
North Dakota's current minimum wage reflects the federal standard of $7.25 an hour, and the ballot measure seeks to raise it incrementally until reaching $15 an hour in 2021. After that, the minimum wage would be adjusted for any increases in the cost of living.
Nodland said they have had to compete against messages that North Dakota has thousands of open jobs. The state's average hourly wage, meanwhile, was $23.14 and the median hourly wage was $19.25, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data for May 2017, the latest figures available.
"I think people by and large see the free market working," said Arik Spencer, president and CEO of the Greater North Dakota Chamber.
The BLS said 5,000 North Dakota hourly workers were at or below the federal minimum wage in 2017, but those estimates don't include overtime pay, tips or commissions.
On Monday, a Fargo City Commission candidate asked the panel to increase the city's minimum wage to $12 an hour and follow in the footsteps of Minneapolis, which has already decided to raise it to $15 an hour over several years.
The Republican-led North Dakota Legislature rejected a bill to raise the state's hourly minimum wage by $2 last year. That bill would have also allowed for cost-of-living increases.