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Labor Leaders' Goals for Idaho: Medicaid Expansion, Minimum Wage

Topics at the Idaho AFL-CIO Conference this week will be getting health insurance and higher wages to more Idahoans. (wavebreak/iStockphoto)
Topics at the Idaho AFL-CIO Conference this week will be getting health insurance and higher wages to more Idahoans. (wavebreak/iStockphoto)
June 10, 2016

BOISE, Idaho - About 100 labor leaders from across the state will be in Boise on Monday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Idaho branch of the AFL-CIO and to plan the union's strategy for the next year.

One big priority is Medicaid expansion. About 78,000 Idahoans are stuck in the coverage gap, making too little to afford private health insurance yet earning too much to qualify for subsidies on the federal health exchange.

Idaho AFL-CIO President Aaron White said he and his allies will try again in the 2017 Legislature.

"The coalition feels pretty confident that the ball got moved substantially last session," he said, "and some folks think that we should be able to get something passed this next session."

Idaho's elected leaders have rejected federal money to raise the income limits for Medicaid, as well as a bare-bones hybrid proposal by Gov. Butch Otter known as the Idaho Primary Care Access Program.

White said the other main priority is raising the minimum wage, which stands at $7.25 an hour. This year, legislators not only refused to bring it up for a vote but banned municipalities from raising wages themselves. Next door, Oregon's minimum wage will be $14.75 in urban areas and $12.50 an hour in rural areas by 2022, but White said Idaho lawmakers wouldn't even consider $9.25 an hour.

"We thought if we came to the table with the compromise, that might be palatable for them," he said, "and we found out real quickly that that wasn't going to work."

So now, White said, the plan is to swing for the fence and ask for a statewide minimum wage of $12.50 an hour, phased in over time. He said it would make the state more competitive and lift more Idaho workers out of poverty.

Information about the conference is online at idahoafl-cio.org.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - ID