More pay for which workers: Minimum wage issues take shape  

Fast food and the workers at a recent rally for a $15 minimum wage. File photo.

Fast food and the workers at a recent rally for a $15 minimum wage. File photo.

Should a higher minimum wage not apply to younger workers?

A citizen group – those supporting and opposing a city minimum wage increase – clashed over that and more at a Monday meeting.

Business advocates suggested a lower wage level for workers under age 26.

Advocates for the wage increase said that would lead employers to hire younger workers and then lay them off at 26.

Jason Pryor of the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association said “turnover is meant to be there” for such entry level workers.

He asked advocates if they believed a 17-year-old worker was as productive, skilled or experienced as a 26-year-old.

Vernon Howard, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, said younger workers cannot be stereotyped and many help support family members.

“I know some very irresponsible 25-year-olds and I know some very responsible 18-year-olds,” Howard said.

“The key principle is that it is an image of dignity that allows a person no matter what their age to support themselves.”

Business advocates also said fewer employers would hire teens if they have to pay them far more.

Pryor also said businesses that start young people at low wages and find them competent will give them raises – “it’s the market.”

Advocates are part of a national push to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. A pending city ordinance calls for gradually raising it to $13 an hour by 2020.

The citizen group is meeting every Monday to try to shape some kind of compromise before the council votes on the matter on July 16.

Bud Nichol, director of the Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Kansas City, spoke against any increase taking effect this year. Businesses have already set their budgets, and it would put even more of them out of business, he said.

Gina Chiala of Standup Kansas City, said, “Waiting a year for any increase at all is a tough sell for us.”

Taylor Fields, SCLC attorney, said people are living in difficult circumstances below the poverty level.

“What’s the impact on businesses versus the starvation level on this side?” he asked.

There are also complex legal issues.

The Missouri legislature has passed a bill, not yet signed or vetoed by the governor, that clearly states that such new city minimum wage increases would be illegal if the new state law goes into effect Aug. 28.

Facilitator Scott Helm said he would consult with city lawyers on whether some partial wage hike would have to go into effect this year.

City Councilman Scott Wagner, who was at the meeting, said it is likely any city action will end up in court.

But the council is committed to passing some increase, he said. “If someone challenges it and they’re wrong, we will have an ordinance sitting there.”

Business advocates said that Kansas City should not raise the wage as much as some cities on the east and west coasts, which have far higher costs of living.

Helm said economists on both sides of raising minimum wages agree there are no studies that look at city minimum wage increases, just state and federal.

He will prepare comparison charts for the next meeting, he said, that show cost of living and poverty levels in other cities that have raised the wages.

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