Workers rejoiced as the minimum wage in St. Louis went up to $10 an hour on Friday, while business groups worried, the St. Louis Dispatch reported.
The local minimum will rise again on January 1, 2018, to $11, then increase annually in line with inflation.
There are a few exemptions: businesses that make less than $500,000 in annual revenue, or have no more than 15 employees on a weekly basis, sheltered workshops or summer day camps, work-study employers and babysitter employers. Surrounding towns remain under the Missouri and Illinois state minimum wages of $7.70 and $8.25, respectively.
“It’s going to change my family’s life tremendously,” the Dispatch heard from Wanda Rogers, 46, who works at a St. Louis McDonald’s. “We won’t have to struggle as bad as we were. I won’t have to worry about being able to pay my rent, pay my bills and buy household supplies and food.”
The raise nearly didn’t happen. The city’s ordinance to boost its minimum wage passed in 2015, but business groups quickly filed suit, arguing that the state’s existing minimum wage law preempts any local ordinance, or else there would be economic chaos as localities attempted to set their own minimum wages. A trial judge ruled in favor of the city, but a circuit court judge on appeal ruled in favor of business groups. In a unanimous decision issued in February, Missouri’s State Supreme Court overturned the circuit court’s ruling.
“Nothing in the [state] statute prevents local governments from adopting locally higher minimum wages,” wrote the judge in the decision. “To the contrary, the legislature has enacted legislation, including HB 722, which refers to and allows for the continued effectiveness of local minimum wage ordinances, thereby recognizing and implicitly approving the adoption of local minimum wage ordinances that supplement the state minimum wage law.”
Citing HB 722 is a bit strange. The contentious bill, passed by the Republican-majority Missouri State Legislature, was an explicit attempt to preempt local bag taxes and local minimum wage laws. Then-Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed the bill, only to have that veto overridden by the legislature in 2015.
But HB 722 as passed contained a clause specifically stating that it shall not preempt any state law or local minimum wage ordinance requirements in effect on August 28, 2015 — the very date of the St. Louis minimum wage ordinance.
What’s not strange: red statehouses overruling blue city halls. As Jen Kinney reported in February: “It’s no secret that the gulf between the social values of cities and the state governments that control them has been widening a long time. Cities skew Democratic, while in 25 states Republicans control both houses and the governorship. But with a Republican stranglehold over the federal government as well, the battle over preemption laws is heating up. A new report by the National League of Cities tallies which states have passed laws to restrict cities’ autonomy, and looks at how cities might fight back.”
Oscar is a Next City contributing writer, and was a Next City 2015-2016 equitable cities fellow. A New York City-based journalist with a background in global development and social enterprise, he has written about impact investing, microfinance, fair trade, entrepreneurship and more for publications such as Fast Company and NextBillion.net. He has a B.A. in Economics from Villanova University.