Saint Louis, Mo. — Supporters and opponents of a proposed increase to the minimum wage in the City of Saint Louis flooded a Ways and Means Committee hearing last night for hours to testify in favor or against a plan that would double the local minimum wage by 2020.
Currently, Missouri’s minimum wage is $7.65 an hour and is loosely tied to inflation. Some lawmakers and activists say that that simply isn’t enough. Mayor Francis Slay and Alderman Shane Cohn agreed, and filed a proposal to increase the minimum wage within the City just weeks ago.
Under the proposal, the minimum wage in city limits would immediately increase to $10 an hour. It would then increase gradually every year until it reached $15 an hour by 2020, when it would then be tied to inflation. The proposal has the support of a few local faith leaders and a host of groups including Show Me 15, Jobs With Justice, Service Employees International Union and United Food and Commercial Workers. Some local area lawmakers, like state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed — who testified before the committee last night and who has repeatedly filed bills to raise the wage statewide — have also publicly supported the plan.
“Cities across the county are taking it upon themselves to raise the minimum wage,” Nasheed told The Missouri Times. “These cities realize that the cost of living is higher in urban environments. Food costs more. Transportation costs more. Utilities cost more. It’s a fact. With bigger paychecks, workers in St. Louis could promote growth through consumer spending and provide an example for the Missouri General Assembly and the U.S. Congress.”
A crowd of more than 100 filed into the hearing and many of those that testified in favor were low-wage workers themselves that say they feel as though they have increasingly limited options and increasingly less access to resources.
But the proposal has a series of roadblocks before it becomes a reality. First is House Bill 722, which, if signed by Gov. Jay Nixon, would prohibit any local municipality from raising the minimum wage above the state level. Nixon hasn’t signed the bill yet, and it would only apply to wage increases that come after August 28 of this year. But several sources close to the issue say that signed into law or not, Slay’s wage increase is sure to be challenged in court.
Another hurdle came just days ago when St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said the Council did not have the authority to raise the wage in the 90 municipalities in the county and that the region would not be following suit. Some local business owners have already hinted that they’ll move shop into the county and out of the city if a wage increase is passed.
Opponents to the plan include the Missouri Restaurant Association and the St. Louis Regional Chamber. The Ways and Means Committee will need to approve of the bill before the full Board of Aldermen can vote. Some sources say that the bill will pass, but with a lower final wage amount than the original $15 proposal.
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.