The battle over Kansas City’s minimum wage grew ever more complicated Thursday.
A coalition of civil rights and social justice organizations that support a base wage of $15 per hour by 2020 demanded the city place its initiative petition on the November ballot.
That follows a business group’s announcement earlier this week of a referendum campaign to oppose an increase above the state-mandated minimum of $7.65 per hour.
Both sides are dissatisfied with the City Council’s July 16 vote to raise the base wage to $8.50 per hour on Aug. 24 and $13 per hour by 2020.
It’s all likely to land in the laps of new City Council members who get sworn into office Saturday.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City and a host of other civil rights groups gathered sufficient signatures in May for a ballot measure calling for $15 per hour by 2020. The petitioners and rival business advocates held numerous discussions this summer with the City Council but could never reach a compromise on an acceptable minimum wage approach.
Vernon Howard Jr., president of the SCLC of Greater Kansas City, said Thursday that the City Council’s support of the gradual increase to $13 per hour by 2020 wasn’t enough.
“In our estimation, it is inadequate and insufficient to raise the working poor out of poverty,” Howard said.
It will be up to the new council to review the initiative petition, and City Attorney Bill Geary said the measure is probably bound for the November ballot, with the city paying the election cost.
Mayor Sly James defended how the past council grappled with this thorny issue.
“The $13-per-hour ordinance passed by the City Council this month was the result of collaboration with multiple parties, including the petitioners, to seek a Kansas City minimum wage solution that would work for all,” James said in a statement. “We still believe that compromise works best for our community, and we will be considering in the weeks to come the ramifications of this issue on a ballot.”
The council will also have to decide how to deal with the rival referendum effort if those business advocates gather the 3,400 valid signatures as required by Aug. 25.