Green balloons rose over downtown Tuesday morning, a symbol for raising the minimum wage, as several dozen advocates rallied in front of Kansas City’s City Hall.
The rally, which called for raising Missouri’s wage floor, coincided with Election Day in Kansas City, where the ballot includes a separate, local-only minimum-wage question.
The statewide campaign to raise the minimum wage from $7.70 in increments up to $12 an hour by 2023 is backed by the Service Employees International Union, the Kansas City AFL-CIO, Stand Up Kansas City and Missouri Jobs With Justice.
The separate Kansas City petition being voted on Tuesday is backed by a consortium of faith-based, low-wage worker and economic justice supporters. It seeks incremental increases up to $15 an hour by 2022.
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For the statewide effort, organized labor softened its longstanding call for $15 an hour and chose to throw its weight behind the state petition for a 2018 election rather than supporting local efforts to raise minimum wages.
The statewide petition drive began before the 10 a.m. rally as backers fanned out at Kansas City polling places to gather petition signatures.
Karen Wright, a retired nurse and Service Employees International Union member, was among clipboard-wielding petitioners.
“About one-third of the people were not enthusiastic about a minimum wage petition,” said Wright, who had stood outside a polling site at Meyer Boulevard and Wornall Road. “They said low-wage workers need to get more skills or get a better job. But about two-thirds signed and said that even this isn’t going to be enough by 2023.”
Lara Granich, who’s heading the statewide petition drive, said the statewide wage proposal — a $12 goal instead of $15 — represented an effort by a “broad coalition to reach consensus.”
If the local election results mirror opinions expressed around the country, the Kansas City question is expected to win at the polls. But a local win will be a symbolic victory, indicating the will of the people, because the state legislature has banned cities and counties in Missouri from setting their own minimum wages.
Regardless of the election outcome, local petitioners have said they expected to follow up by either pursuing litigation to try to overturn the state’s pre-emptive legislation or to turn their attention to the statewide petition drive.
The statewide effort seeks to raise the minimum wage to $8.60 an hour in 2019, with 85-cent raises each year until 2023, at which point annual cost-of-living increases would kick in. About one in five working Missourians would receive higher wages as a result.
“This campaign takes the power out of Jefferson City and gives it back to the people, where it belongs,” said Richard Franklin, a janitor and Service Employees International Union member. “It’s up to us, the people, to take matters into our own hands.”
Several speakers at the rally said a higher wage floor is necessary to provide a living wage for workers, many of whom have families and aren’t teenagers.
Some economists estimate that a single parent with one child would need to earn about $22 an hour, working full-time, to pay basic living expenses in Kansas City.
Granich said supporters of the statewide campaign will be trying to collect petition signatures throughout the day at Kansas City polls. The polls are open until 7 p.m.