Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
The news comes just as Los Angeles finalizes its landmark increase.
News on minimum-wage developments just keeps rolling in: Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council is set to finalize a measure that would increase the municipal minimum hourly wage to $15, up from the current $9. Meanwhile, in St. Louis, Mayor Francis Slay is hoping to phase in that same $15 rate by 2020—more than double the $7.65 state minimum hourly wage residents are now paid. But crucial details remain uncertain in both cities.
L.A. council members gave their preliminary approval to the proposed increase last month, which was heralded as a watershed moment in the nationwide movement for a higher “living” wage. Though city representatives are expected to finalize the proposal’s language Wednesday, they’ll likely continue to debate on how the increase will affect certain types of employees—such as union members. Labor leaders have controversially asked for an exemption from the increase for workers with collective bargaining rights, so that they maintain the freedom to negotiate for things like retirement packages and health benefits.
And in St. Louis, Slay has yet to submit an official draft of his $15 hourly wage bill to the Board of Aldermen, but is expected to by next week. In a state where it takes making $14.52 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment, the increase would surely go far for many. But Slay is up against a deadline: On August 28, a new Missouri law barring cities from raising the minimum wage above the state’s or providing employees benefits that exceed state requirements will take effect. Kansas City Mayor Sly James has also alluded to a phasing in a $15 pay rate, which he’d have to introduce in similarly short order.
If successful, St. Louis and Kansas City would join Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago in recently advancing major pay rate increases. Chicago aside, many advocates say that the coast-to-coast movement for a living wage has fallen on deaf ears in most Midwestern cities, until now.
“With this [St. Louis] proposal, supported by Mayor Francis Slay, the fight to raise wages significantly for underpaid workers struggling to get by has spread beyond America’s coastal cities to the heartland,” Christine Owens, the executive director of the National Employment Law Project, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Still, Missouri’s wage laws would have a long way to go. Tipped employees in the Show-Me state are entitled to just $3.82 per hour, or half of the state minimum wage, from their employers. The expectation is that that workers make up the rest in tips, but that’s often not the reality. It isn’t clear yet whether Slay’s or James’s proposals would do anything to change sub-minimum wages for tipped workers in their cities.
But the wage-increase action on state and local levels has encouraged federal lawmakers to be a bit more bold. In April, Washington state Senator Patty Murray helped introduce the most ambitious federal minimum wage proposal yet, including a $12 hourly rate by 2020, and an elimination of the current tipped-wage differential. It doesn’t seem likely that the bill will pass any time soon, but clearly, the fight for a living wage for all workers is far from over.