By Richard von Glahn, Missouri Jobs With Justice
This week, St. Louis, Missouri made national headlines for all the wrong reasons. Starting Monday, August 28, paychecks for working people across the city plummeted because Republican legislators voted to nullify the St. Louis minimum wage ordinance. This galling move of politicians taking away the freedom of working people to better take of their families marked a new stage in the war between progressive cities and conservative state legislatures.
Back in 2015, working people and a strong coalition led by Missouri Jobs With Justice joined with the city of St. Louis and passed an ordinance raising the minimum wage. The raise from $7.65 to $11 by 2018 was hailed as a mile marker for the Midwest, where wages lag behind other coastal areas of the country. Soon after the bill passing, corporate industry leaders blocked the victory laps.
Egged on by massive corporations that want to protect their profits and keep paying low wages, Republican legislators in Missouri pulled no punches to undo the increase by utilizing a cynical tactic known as preemption. Missouri is one of 25 states using preemption laws to prevent localities from improving conditions for working people through wage increases.
After years of legal battle, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled the city could, in fact, raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour immediately this spring and $11 an hour in 2018. When the $10 minimum wage finally went into effect this May, it delivered raises to approximately 30,000 working people throughout the city. But in their final act of the legislative session, the Missouri General Assembly approved legislation to preempt the city’s ordinance once again.
Working people are not taking the defeat lying down. On the same day the raise repeal went into effect, Raise Up Missouri announced a statewide ballot initiative to increase the minimum wage to $12 per hour across Missouri once and for all. Community activists held their launch event at Urban Chestnut Brewing Company, one of more than 130 St. Louis businesses that pledged to continue honoring the $10 minimum wage.
At Monday’s press conference, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson pledged her support for the initiative, exclaiming that “Today isn’t just about St. Louis. Today is about the over 350,000 Missouri families that are struggling to make it on less than $12 an hour. This campaign will not only deliver a raise to over 350,000 Missouri families, it will create over $1 billion dollars in increased consumer buying power for our state. It will move everyone forward.”
Arnessa Johnson is a member of SEIU who began collecting signatures of her fellow Missourians, including Mayor Krewson, in support of the Raise Up Missouri petition this week. Despite the setbacks, she said: “The legislature can’t stop us because we have an army that is ready to fight.”
Arnessa is one of the many working people in St. Louis throughout Missouri who continue their march for progress undeterred. As evidence, a familiar chant filled the streets as the press conference dispersed: “The people, united, will never be defeated!”
Richard von Glahn is the policy director for Missouri Jobs with Justice, which is helping lead the statewide campaign to gather over 100,000 signatures the place the minimum wage initiative on the November 2018.