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Missouri Supreme Court upholds St. Louis minimum wage hike

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  • Missouri Supreme Court upholds St. Louis minimum wage hike

    JEFFERSON CITY • St. Louis will be able to raise its minimum wage to $11 by 2018, after the Missouri Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the city acted within its charter authority when it approved the hike.

    The decision reverses a circuit court judge who struck down the increase in 2015, just hours before it was set to take effect.

    The city was sued by business groups who said the ordinance conflicted with state law that caps the minimum wage at $7.65.

    Attorneys for the business organizations argued that without a state standard, there could be thousands of minimum wages throughout the state, leading to confusion rather than consistency.

    Lawyers for the city contended the cost of living in St. Louis is substantially higher than other areas in the state, hence the need for a change.

    The court found that the St. Louis increase didn’t conflict with the wage set by state law.

    “Its purpose of protecting employees is served by setting a floor for minimum wages; nothing in the law suggests the state also wanted to protect employers by setting a maximum minimum wage,” wrote Judge Laura Denvir Stith in the decision.

    Lawmakers also sought to prevent local increases in 2015, when they tacked on a minimum wage provision to a bill prohibiting municipal bans on plastic bags.

    The legislation was vetoed by former Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, but overridden by the GOP-led Legislature. It took effect in October 2015.

    A clause in the bill, HB 722, said it would not pre-empt local ordinances passed by Aug. 28, 2015 — the day the St. Louis minimum wage ordinance took effect.

    The court found that St. Louis passed its increase before HB 722 became law, and therefore could not be pre-empted.

    Tom Shepard, chief of staff to St. Louis Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, said city lawmakers rushed to get the increase passed under the wire, with Reed calling meetings while the board was on break.

    “Today, the Supreme Court justified our rights as a city to make sure the people in our city can make a living wage,” Reed said later in a statement. “The people of St. Louis need to be able to afford groceries for their families and a roof over their heads.”

    St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay also praised the court’s decision Tuesday, saying the increase will “help lift hardworking men and women out of poverty.”

    The original law would have raised the minimum wage gradually over time, making it $10 an hour this year and $11 an hour next year. On Tuesday, Slay said only that his administration would work with businesses on the timing of the increase.

    “It is fair to give businesses a reasonable grace period to adjust to the new minimum wage rate,” the mayor said in a statement. “We will spend the coming week talking to local business leaders to prepare to implement the increase.”

    Supporters rallied in celebration at City Hall.

    Betty Douglas, who has worked at McDonald’s for 10 years and earns $7.90 an hour, said the decision will make things easier on her and her 16-year-old son.

    “As of today, I will be making $10,” she said. “I’ll be making $20 more dollars a day, $100 more a week and $200 (more) a pay period.”

    Dennis Shaw, 35, has been working at Culinaria for nearly two years. Shaw said a hike in his wages will allow him to do things he couldn’t do before, such as finish college and, in the future, put money down on a new home.

    “I my job, I my store, but I can tell you, I making a proper wage so much more,” he said.

    Pierce Powers and his wife, Lona, owners of Lona’s LiL Eats, also attended the rally.

    “I want to speak as a businessperson and really calm the nerves of other businesspeople,” he said.

    Higher wages will benefit businesses in the long run, he said, as minimum-wage earners will have more buying power to eat at restaurants and go to movies.

    Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis also hailed the decision, saying in a written statement:

    “The Missouri Supreme Court has justly provided the opportunity for everyone to have a chance for a decent life and to support the economy. Instead of deciding between putting food on the table and paying the rent on time, working families are now on an overdue path to earning $11 by 2018.”

    Meanwhile, groups that filed suit to overturn the ordinance condemned the ruling.

    “If you allow one city or county to mandate higher wages, you’re putting businesses there at a real competitive disadvantage when compared with businesses in nearby communities where the cost of doing business — and the cost of goods and services — is that much lower,” said Brad Jones, the Missouri director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

    By Celeste Bott St. Louis Post-Dispatch
    Missouri Supreme Court Building