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County Council ends, for now, any action on proposed minimum-wage hike

St. Louis County Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, wants to raise the county's minimum wage to $15 an hour.
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis County Council has sided with County Executive Steve Stenger by firmly killing off a proposal to increase the county’s minimum wage to $15 within five years.

The bill’s sponsor, Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, failed to get a “second’’ from any of her four colleagues when she attempted to bring up the measure for discussion.  As a result, the bill died.

Erby displayed some shock, but later told reporters that she was disappointed – but not surprised – by her measure’s treatment.

She added, however, that she was not discouraged.  “We can’t give up. There are people out there making $7.65 an hour,” she said. “They cannot afford to feed their families. They’re struggling. There are parents who work more than one job” and leave their children home alone.

Erby also questioned the allegiance of the council’s other four Democrats to their party’s commitments to working people. She didn’t mention Stenger, a fellow Democrat, who sat with the council on the podium but said nothing during the short discussion about the issue.

Erby did single out the two union officials on the council: Councilman Mike O’Mara of Florissant and Council chairman Pat Dolan of Richmond Heights.

Dolan and O’Mara emphasized during the council meeting that they didn’t oppose a minimum-wage hike – just her proposal.

Both men reaffirmed Stenger’s chief argument against council action: that the County Council legally couldn’t dictate a minimum wage for the 90 municipalities that cover most the county’s territory.

“I would support a statewide minimum wage,” Dolan said. “I agree with the philosophy, but as it stands right now, we don’t have a bill in place that I believe could get us the increase.”

Labor had been heavily involved in the successful 2006 initiative-petition campaign that led to statewide approval of the current Missouri minimum wage of $7.65 an hour, which is 40 cents higher than the federal minimum wage. Some unions already are advocating a higher state minimum wage, with some backing a phased-in increase to $15 an hour by 2020 or later.

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