City passes landmark minimum wage law

untitled-(34-of-37)The city council today passed a minimum wage law – the first Missouri city to do so.

It would increase the wage to $8.50 by Aug. 4, skip any increase next year and then increase it gradually to $13 by 2020.

Only Councilman Ed Ford voted against the increase that follows a successful petition drive for an increase to $15 by 2020.

A leader of the drive, Vernon Howard, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, praised the council action but said they would still consider putting the matter on the ballot.

Mayor Sly James said that the council agreed to the $13 an hour in hopes of keeping the contentious issue off the ballot.

If the city still has to spend $500,000 for a special election, he said, he would try to revoke the ordinance passed today.

Osmara Ortiz, a Burger King employee with Stand Up Kansas City, praised the action and also fast-food workers for striking and pressing for $15 an hour.

“We will continue marching, striking and speaking out until we win $15 and union rights,” she said.

Councilman Jermaine Reed, who first introduced the ordinance that originally called for $15 an hour, also introduced the final committee substitute.

For people like those who can’t support themselves or their families on the $7.65 state minimum wage, he said of $13, “It’s a huge victory for them and for all of us.”

James said the entire community would suffer as long as workers can’t provide for their families.

“Our action today is an attempt to do the right thing not just for minimum-wage workers today, but for the future of Kansas City,” James said.

But he also said it was “putting a band-aid” on the acute issue of poverty, while better education is the root issue that needs to be addressed.

Mayor pro tem Cindy Circo said Kansas City and other cities are taking action on the minimum wage and more because federal and state governments are unable or unwilling.

“The state should be handling this, the federal government, not Kanas City taxpayers,” she said.

The city will have legal costs as judges decide whether it had the power to raise the wage higher than that set by the state.

Councilman John Sharp said the city is part of a national movement brought on by severe income inequity.

A coalition of civil rights groups, faith groups, unions and working people are acting together like they did in the 1960s, he said.

Exempted from the ordinance are those 17 years old or younger, government employees except those of the city, apprentices, interns working for academic credit and workers in some volunteer or charitable jobs.

The age exemption prompted a debate and vote. Ford argued that it should apply to those 18 and younger.

“If you restrict it to 17, you’re really putting these 18-year-olds at a disadvantage of getting these part-time jobs,” he said.

Councilman Jim Glover objected to any age restrictions, calling it age discrimination.

“I think it’s unfair to ask the young to work at a lower wage,” he said.

James said cities nationwide are trying to put young people to work as soon as possible and the higher wage would cost youths jobs.

A motion to raise the age to 18 failed on a 7-6 vote.

Ford opposed the ordinance for other reasons as well.

“We’re talking about an 86 percent increase in the minimum wage in a very short period of time,” he said.

It will cost the city jobs and businesses and employers will cut back worker hours and benefits, he said.

He also said it was illegal and unenforceable.

The city manager said it would cost $250,000 this year to hire and train the first enforcement workers and there are also no enforcement regulations. One reason for no further increase next year is to give time to set up an enforcement mechanism, James said.

Workers with signs crowded the council chamber for hours throughout the debate.

After the vote, clapping and cheers soon carried out into the hallway.


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