Government & Politics

New $15 minimum wage ordinance clashes with Missouri law; legal battle likely

Police arrest dozens of low-wage workers at Fight for 15 protest

Police arrested dozens of low-wage workers protesting at the intersection of Meyer and Troost Avenue in KCMO Tuesday night, November 29 as protesters sat in the street and blocked the traffic. Hundreds of restaurant workers, child care workers as
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Police arrested dozens of low-wage workers protesting at the intersection of Meyer and Troost Avenue in KCMO Tuesday night, November 29 as protesters sat in the street and blocked the traffic. Hundreds of restaurant workers, child care workers as

Now that Kansas City voters have overwhelmingly approved a higher minimum wage that will be forbidden by state law, what’s likely to happen?

Kansas City Council members and City Manager Troy Schulte offered possible scenarios Wednesday, but emphasized that city government isn’t in the driver’s seat in this process. A legal battle is likely.

Voters on Tuesday approved a grass-roots petition initiative that calls for the city’s minimum wage to rise from the state-set minimum of $7.70 per hour to $10 per hour on Aug. 24, followed by annual increases to reach $15 per hour in 2022.

That’s higher than a previous council-approved measure to raise the city’s wage floor to $8.50 an hour on Sept. 18 and gradually to $13 per hour. The city hadn’t done anything to get ready for that new minimum wage, because the state legislature in May banned Missouri cities from adopting their own minimum wages.

Several council members said Wednesday that they would likely vote at their Thursday legislative session to repeal their own ordinance and make way for the voter-approved measure to take effect Aug. 24. But they also said the city doesn’t plan to do anything to actively enforce that higher minimum wage, since the state law that pre-empts it takes effect Aug. 28.

Council members said the entire situation, including local versus state powers, will probably have to get sorted out in the courts. But it won’t be the city Law Department that will file suit, since city government isn’t directly affected, with “standing” to sue in this issue. Those with standing would include employers challenging the new wage, or employees challenging lack of the new wage.

Still, 3rd District City Councilman Jermaine Reed said he will continue to work with his council colleagues on next steps to support low-wage workers.

“Local leaders should be empowered to adopt policies to meet the needs of the voters, thus ensuring cities have the tools they need to build stronger economies,” Reed said in a statement.

A legal challenge also could possibly involve those who petitioned for the new higher wage, which was backed by a consortium of Kansas City faith, labor and economic justice groups. The Rev. Vernon Howard, a leader of the petition group, said Wednesday that the group will vigorously defend the higher local wage, although he declined to discuss legal strategy.

Howard commended local voters, and said their action makes the petition initiative more than a symbolic gesture.

“Without this victory, there is no legal battle,” Howard said. “It allows us to fight the legal battle.”

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley

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