The proposed increase to Kansas City’s minimum wage likely will travel a bumpy road during City Council debate on Thursday. Ultimately, Mayor Sly James and council members should endorse a modest boost that will increase over time.
That would place the city among the leaders on the crucial issue of wage fairness, a battle being fought around the country.
Passage of a reasonable increase would help Kansas City improve its image as a desirable place to work. Meanwhile, employers would get some certainty on how much they ought to pay employees, while gaining access to hard workers who want to earn more than the lower wages that will continue to exist in other local communities.
James focused on the correct issue earlier this week during a strategy session with other council members. The city needed to “do what makes sense and what we think is right,” he said. That came after council member Ed Ford warned that any increase by the city “is going to be struck down by the courts.”
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Maybe, maybe not. This is too important of an issue to be deterred simply by a potential legal challenge.
The council last week took initial steps toward setting the minimum wage at $8.50 an hour this year, then moving toward $13 an hour by 2023.
On Thursday, some council members are expected to offer amendments to speed up the implementation of the higher minimum wages, and to set the hoped-for goal of $15 an hour somewhere along the line.
However, it appears that James and most council leaders remain dubious that this aggressive approach would be the right one in Kansas City.
Other amendments may be offered as well. We’d like to see one that prevents age discrimination when it comes to the minimum wage. Paying 16-year-olds the same minimum wage as 19-year-olds, for example, would deter businesses from packing their employee rolls with the youngest of workers.
If they don’t like the result of Thursday’s council session, local citizens who support boosting the minimum wage even higher could try to force a public vote in the near future.
At this point, James and the City Council have a limited yet important role to play. They can accomplish that by mandating a higher minimum wage in Kansas City.