Kansas Citians issued a clarion call to local businesses and government officials this week: Workers should make a minimum of $10 per hour.
Nearly 70 percent of voters approved a ballot measure Tuesday aimed at raising the minimum wage to $10 and implementing incremental increases to $15 by 2022. The Missouri legislature has barred cities from setting their own minimum wages, but Kansas City businesses and local governments should still heed the call to give low-wage workers a raise.
Paying less than $10 in Kansas City simply isn’t a livable wage.
Tuesday’s vote was a resounding rebuke to the state minimum wage of $7.70. And it should also send a message to state legislators who are bent on overruling cities’ best judgment.
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Legal avenues to fight the state law are being explored, and a campaign to press for a statewide vote on a higher minimum kicked off this week. Both are long-term efforts in the arduous process of aligning wages with the present-day costs of living in cities.
In the meantime, let’s applaud Kansas City businesses that are already doing the right thing.
A campaign should begin immediately to spotlight and salute local companies that agree to pay their lowest wage workers at least $10.
Let’s give them signs for their front windows, a logo to brand their efforts and a hashtag like #Paythewage to spread the word that many businesses are doing right by their workers.
Customers can then choose to reward these good actors with their business.
Historically, significant social justice advances in the private sector have often followed government setting the tone. The city of Kansas City and Jackson County should accept the $10 wage challenge and lead by example.
Jackson County officials report that they have no full-time employees who earn less than $10. But they do have 136 summer and seasonal workers within the Parks and Recreation Department who receive between $8.50 and $10 an hour.
Kansas City has 21 employees earning below $10. Of those, 18 are at $9.91 per hour, and the other three are summer interns who make more than $8 an hour.
Both the county and the city could easily bring these workers in line with voters’ wishes.
St. Louis has kicked off its own effort, dubbing it #SaveTheRaise. Already more than 100 businesses in St. Louis have pledged to ignore the state law nullifying the city’s efforts to raise the minimum wage. The state law will take effect later this month.
St. Louis’ $10 minimum wage was implemented in May. So the push there is to keep businesses from rolling back the wages of 35,000 workers.
Any number of the many Kansas City-based organizations that have been diligently pressing for higher wages could lead the charge here. Well-organized groups have played significant roles: clergy, social and economic justice organizations and labor.
St. Louis appears committed to paying workers a living salary and building momentum for a higher minimum wage. It’s time for Kansas City to answer the challenge.
Pay the wage.