Missouri Legislature Votes To Put Brakes on St. Louis Minimum Wage

The bill still requires the signature of a non-committal Gov. Greitens.


A depression era breadline

It's going to be tougher than usual in St. Louis to measure the impact of the increase in the minimum wage. The measure lasted a week.

The Missouri Legislature undid the work of Democrats and labor activists, voting Friday to overturn a sharp increase passed in 2015 by the City Council that has seen repeated court and legislative challenges.

Given the ambivalence of Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, who has been non-committal on whether he'll sign the bill, union officials are pressuring Greitens for a veto.

"Unemployment is a problem facing St. Louis city and urban Kansas City," said Missouri Chamber of Commerce President Dan Mehan to the Kansas City Star after the bill passed. "It makes no sense to mandate a minimum wage that makes that problem worse."

Cities that have stayed the course on minimum wage increases have experienced a predictable decline in jobs and job growth, as Reason has reported.

Washington D.C. shed 1,400 restaurant jobs after adopting a $15 minimum wage in 2016, while San Diego wound up with 4000 fewer restaurant jobs than projected after hiking its minimum wage from $10 to $11.50 per hour.

The evidence has given some cities pause.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh vetoed a $15 minimum wage hike sent to her by the city council, despite having supported such an increase on the campaign trail. Her stated concern was the economic health of the city.

Similarly, the city of Flagstaff, Arizona agreed to slow the pace of a voter-approved minimum wage increase in March after protests from local businesses and workers. The Flagstaff raise will now go from $10 to $10.50 in June, as opposed to the originally scheduled $12.

Not so in the city of St. Louis, which has an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent. Kansas City's rate—which has a minimum wage hike on the ballot for August—sits at 4.2 percent. Missouri's state-wide unemployment rate is 3.9 percent.

David Cook of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 655 in St. Louis called out Greitens for his supposed reliance on "millions in dark money from shadowy billionaires."

To pressure the governor Cook's union devised two scripts on their website. "I work very hard and I've earned the right to make a higher minimum wage," the site suggests affected workers to tell the governor. The other suggests unaffected workers get involved, too, demanding the governor veto a bill that "would cut pay for tens of thousands of my fellow hard-working Missourians."

So far, the UFCW also reports 373 of these form letters have been sent.

Democratic lawmakers are also exercised.

State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed (D–St. Louis) described the state's current wage of $7.70 as inhumane for those living the St. Louis area, and staged a less-than-marathon two-hour filibuster of the minimum wage preemption bill.

"They literally took money out of the pockets of individuals," said the senator who has supported tax increases on zoos and cigarettes.

St. Louis mayor Lyda Krewson, a Democrat, has vowed to do the same, fuming at the Missouri Legislature for frustrating yet another local despotism. "The state has preempted cities from enacting laws on many issues, including guns, cold medicine and now our minimum wage," she said in a statement, adding "$7.70 is not enough. I will work with others to get an increase in the minimum wage on the ballot since our state legislature won't address it."

Already twelve different minimum wage petitions have been approved for circulation by the Missouri Secretary of State, six of which aim to raise the wage to $15 an hour.

Should any of these make it to the final ballot, they stand a good chance of success. A majority of voters, often blind or dismissive to the consequences of the minimum wage, usually support these kinds of initiatives.

Four states—Arizona, Washington, Colorado, and Maine—had put similar initiatives before voters in 2016, all of which passed with comfortable margins.

Although nearly impossible for a politician, Greitens should ignore the public and heed the evidence. Workers laid off by employers who can't afford arbitrary government-imposed pay increases are eligible to vote, too. At least in theory.