Government & Politics

Civil rights leaders call for a vote on raising minimum wage to $10 an hour in Kansas City

A group of protesters marched across the Prospect Bridge at Interstate 70 on March 7 to call for unionization and higher minimum wages for fast-food workers.
A group of protesters marched across the Prospect Bridge at Interstate 70 on March 7 to call for unionization and higher minimum wages for fast-food workers. The Kansas City Star

Let Kansas City voters decide whether to raise the city’s minimum wage to $10 an hour, local civil rights leaders said Wednesday as they filed the paperwork for an election.

The proposal would increase the minimum wage gradually to $15 an hour by 2020.

“It is a human dignity issue,” said Vernon Howard Jr., executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City.

The move was aimed in part at pushing the City Council to take action on its own. Many council members agree that the current statewide minimum wage of $7.65 an hour is too low, but they have been reluctant to act because of state restrictions that they think would prevent them or voters from deciding the issue.

By filing petitions containing 4,000 signatures, local civil rights leaders hope to set in motion a citywide vote on raising the minimum wage in Kansas City from the current $7.65 an hour to $15 by 2020

Howard and other activists made their remarks outside City Hall and then delivered petitions with more than 4,000 signatures to the city clerk’s office for verification. The names of at least 3,573 registered Kansas City voters are needed to get anything on the ballot, subject to council approval.

President Barack Obama has called for raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, up from the nationwide minimum wage of $7.25. But the Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to move that proposal forward.

While sympathetic to the plight of low-wage workers, Mayor Sly James and other council members say Kansas City cannot follow the lead of other cities that have raised their minimum wage.

Missouri law forbids the adoption of local minimum wage ordinances, they say, while Seattle and other major cities that have raised their minimum wage are not under similar constraints.

“What Seattle is doing is great,” James said in a recent meeting. “But we ain’t Seattle.”

The Missouri Senate reaffirmed that Tuesday by passing a bill that prevents cities from banning plastic grocery bags and prohibits them from raising the minimum wage. That bill now goes to the House.

The actions in Jefferson City didn’t deter Howard, the Rev. Sam Mann and the Rev. James Tindall from filing the paperwork for a Kansas City vote.

They hope it spurs city leaders to take a stand.

“We don’t want to see the same thing happen in Kansas City that happened in Baltimore” and in Ferguson, Mo., said Tindall, who said a lack of good-paying jobs is one of the root causes of unrest in urban core neighborhoods.

To reach Mike Hendricks, call 816-234-4738 or send email to mhendricks@kcstar.com.

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