Initiative petition to increase Oklahoma’s minimum wage faces legal challenge

Minimum Wage written in Sharpie with an Arrow pointing up

On October 27, 2023, two individuals represented by attorney Melanie Wilson Rughani of the Oklahoma-based law firm of Crowe & Dunlevy filed Initiative Petition No. 446, which proposes a dramatic increase in Oklahoma’s minimum wage over the coming years. The initiative petition, if passed by a vote of the people, would raise Oklahoma’s minimum wage to $9 per hour beginning in 2025, with successive annual increases resulting in a $15 per hour minimum wage beginning 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 Consumer Price Index.

But that initiative petition faces a serious legal hurdle before it makes its way to a ballot. On November 20, 2023, the Oklahoma State Chamber and Oklahoma Farm Bureau Legal Foundation filed a protest with the Oklahoma Supreme Court asking the court to declare the petition legally insufficient. They argue that a portion of the petition violates the Oklahoma Constitution and that the proposed wording of the ballot initiative is misleading. On December 18, 2023, attorneys advocating for the petition filed a response, taking the position that “[y]ears 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.

The proposed initiative petition, if declared legally sufficient and ultimately approved by Oklahoma voters, 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 as a result 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.

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