Government & Politics

$15 per hour minimum wage headed to KC August ballot

March for higher minimum wage in Kansas City

Hundreds of protesters marched in Kansas City on Thursday as part of rallies demanding an increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Video by: ALLISON LONG |
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Hundreds of protesters marched in Kansas City on Thursday as part of rallies demanding an increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Video by: ALLISON LONG |

A $15 per hour minimum wage plan is officially headed to Kansas City voters in August.

The Kansas City Council agreed Thursday to comply with a Missouri Supreme Court order and put a petition initiative for a higher minimum wage on the August 8 ballot.

The proposal, which was backed by civil rights activists, urban core ministers and other social justice and low-wage worker advocates, calls for boosting the minimum wage to $10 per hour by Sept. 1 and gradually to $15 per hour by 2022.

The current minimum wage is set by the state at $7.70 per hour.

Rev. Sam Mann, who helped lead the citizens petition drive, urged the council Thursday to act.

“Give this relief to our workers and our laborers as soon as possible,” Mann told a council committee before the full council vote.

Mann and other petitioners had hoped to have the measure on the April 4 ballot. But the city council didn’t have sufficient votes in support of that date back in January, which was the deadline for approving April ballot measures.

Mann said that council decision was very disappointing, so it’s now time to move on to the next available election.

Mann said this petition’s supporters included Sunday school teachers, pastors, community organizers and people who went “house to house” gathering signatures in a “true grassroots effort.”

A higher wage campaign this summer could be fiercely contested by the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association and many other business groups. They have opposed a higher local minimum wage, arguing it would create a patchwork of laws and wage rules throughout the state. But Bill Teel, restaurant association executive director, declined comment Thursday.

Boosting the minimum wage has been a hot topic in Kansas City since summer 2015, and was originally headed to a November 2015 vote. But the state legislature appeared to prohibit any local government from setting a wage floor higher than the state limit, so a judge ordered Kansas City to remove the ballot proposal from that 2015 ballot.

The case went all the way up to the Missouri Supreme Court, which ruled in January that since petitioners had met the signature requirement under the city charter, their measure should be put to Kansas City voters. If it passes, then there could be further consideration of whether it violates state law.

So even if Kansas City voters approve, that doesn’t necessary mean the higher wage would actually take effect here.

A separate case currently before the Missouri Supreme Court, out of St. Louis, deals with the issue of whether cities can set their own minimum wages in conflict with state law. Depending on how the Supreme Court rules, in a decision still pending, it could make Kansas City’s higher minimum wage effort moot.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley