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Slay proposes $15-an-hour minimum wage for St. Louis workers by 2020

dleafy | sxc.hu

With a possible state ban looming, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay is calling for the city to act swiftly and phase in a minimum wage mandate of $15 an hour over the next four years.

A bill is expected to be formally introduced Friday to the Board of Aldermen. Meanwhile, the Missouri secretary of state's office has OKed three initiative petition proposals for circulation that call for hikes in the state's minimum wage.

Slay has signaled for some time that he supported such an increase, especially after his administration increased the minimum wage several years ago for all full-time city workers to $12.21 an hour.

Slay chief of staff Mary Ellen Ponder contended that increasing the minimum wage "puts money in the pockets of low-income workers," who in turn spend that money on food, clothing and basic essentials -- thus, helping businesses' bottom lines as well.

The mayor's current pitch is somewhat in line with the push by labor groups and others for a national minimum wage of $15 an hour. The federal minimum wage is now $7.25 an hour.

Slay plans to hold a news conference Thursday to lay out the specifics of his proposal. But those close to him say that the proposed St. Louis mandate would apply only to businesses with more than 15 employees, and with annual gross income of more than $500,000.

The bill's sponsor is Alderman Shane Cohn, D-25th Ward.

Time also may be of the essence.  The Missouri General Assembly has passed a bill, HB722, that would bar cities and municipalities from requiring a minimum wage that differs from the state’s minimum wage of $7.65 an hour, or the federal minimum wage.

Gov. Jay Nixon has yet to take action on the bill. But if he signs it into law, the bill’s ban would take effect Aug. 28.

However, the bill has a clause "grandfathering in" all local minimum wage hikes approved before Aug. 28.

Part of national effort

A number of major cities around the country, including New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., have passed or are considering similar minimum-wage hikes.

Kansas City also has been looking at a similar $15-an-hour phase-in proposal, but officials have stepped back in the wake of business opposition.

Cohn's bill would immediately increase the minimum wage for workers in St. Louis to $10. On Jan. 1, 2017, the minimum wage would increase to $11.25 an hour. On Jan. 1, 2018, the minimum wage would go up to $12.50. On Jan. 1, 2019, it would increase to $13.75 an hour, with the final hike to $15 an hour set for Jan. 1, 2020.

Business leaders in St. Louis have yet to comment. But Dan Mehan, chief executive of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says it's a bad idea for local governments to impose business mandates different from the state's requirements.

"There should be some certainty across the state,'' Mehan said in a telephone interview. He said the state chamber has alerted its St. Louis members to Slay's proposal.

Meanwhile, community activist groups such as Jobs With Justice are already hailing the mayor's plan.

The city’s “Fight for $15’’ chapter issued a statement with comments from local McDonald’s worker Bettie Douglas.

“The Show-Me state just showed that real, life-changing victories are possible when we stick together,” Douglas said. “By standing up and speaking out, we are on the verge of making St. Louis the first city in America’s heartland to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

She added, “We’ve gone from the days of being told we had no shot to $15 an hour becoming a reality all over the country…”

Three statewide proposals to hike minimum wage

Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander announced Tuesday afternoon that his staff has approved for circulation three initiative petitionsthat seek to put proposed minimum wage hikes before Missouri voters in 2016.

One would phase in a hike to $11 an hour by 2019, the second would phase in an increase to $12 by 2020 and the third would phase in an increase to $15 by 2023.

All three were submitted by the same St. Louis group, which implies that the group has yet to decide which one it will circulate.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.