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09- Wages and the City

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While states have made improvements, cities are making some of the most revolutionary wage changes. To date, at least“41 localities have adopted minimum wages above their state minimum wage.” Seattle-Tacoma, Nassau County, NY and Flagstaff, AZ have set their minimum wages $2.25 above, $0.75 above and $0.75 below the living wage, respectively, and are moving toward a secure wage. Chicago, Portland and Santa Fe are next in line with minimums about two dollars below their local living wage. So there is still room to grow them. 

The “Fight for $15” movement, which organizes workers, voters and unions, has been on the ground in many of those 41 localities. They have taken major corporations like McDonald’s to federal court to defend worker’s rights. They have relaunched Martin Luther King’s historic Poor People’s Campaign in cities like Tallahassee and Detroit and are paving the way for unions in Milwaukee and Memphis, Fairfax, VA.

The movement is encouraging but, at the city-level, the fight is long, hard and multi-faceted. In the nation’s capital, for example, the minimum wage is $13.25—five dollars more than the federal, yet nearly four below the city’s living wage—and will increase to $15 in July of 2020. This June, voters approved an Initiative 77 to match tipped minimum wage to the non-tipped one, a measure that the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute supports.  Just yesterday, D.C. Council announced a bill to repeal the voter approved proposition. And House Republicans from North Carolina and Alabama are joining the mostly-Democratic D.C. Council in the repeal. 

Last year the State of Missouri Legislature, with a $7.85 minimum wage, reversed St. Louis’s $10 wage ordinance by making it illegal for municipalities to create minimum wages outside of the state minimums. With a living wage of $11.06, this wage increase in St. Louis would have been a significant step in the right direction. Unfortunately, this tactical use of preemption—when states overrule cities—may be growing. 

In response to the state’s legislative action, the Raise Up Missouri campaign is taking this issue directly to voters. The movement is running a statewide effort to raise Missouri’s minimum wage to $12 by 2023. Its proposal is now in the signature verification process to become a statewide referendum on the November 2018 ballot. If the initiative is approved and the state legislature repeals it, then the fight continues.   When only 24 states allow initiatives and referendums to be voted on by the electorate, what does this mean for other cities without the right to bring the issue before their states voters?

What local groups are organizing to give workers living or secure wages in your area? What has been the city or state government’s response to that organizing?  Post the information below. 

Updated: July 11, 2018