by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark assistant editor
The Kansas City Council could decide Thursday to establish a citywide minimum wage above and beyond the state minimum wage.
Their vote would require employers within the city limits of Kansas City to pay their employees an hourly wage approved by city officials.
The original proposed ordinance, drafted by William Geary, city attorney, suggested increasing the minimum wage to $10 per hour beginning Sept. 1, 2015. On Sept. 1, 2017, the minimum wage would gradually increase over a four year period.
By Sept. 1, 2020 the minimum wage would be set at $15 an hour.
In an attempt to find middle ground, a committee substitute ordinance was prepared by Mayor Sly James' office. This proposal presented to the council last week establishes a minimum wage in Kansas City at $8.50 per hour beginning on Aug. 24, 2015.
The minimum wage in the city would gradually increase on an annual basis. By Jan. 1, 2023 the minimum wage would increase to $13 per hour.
The committee substitute received unanimous approval from a committee comprised of all members of the Kansas City Council. It was moved to a third reading.
Currently, the state-set minimum wage is $7.65 per hour. At this rate, a full-time employee working 40 hours per week earns about $15,912 a year.
A full-time employee working 40 hours per week bumped up to $13 per hour will earn about $27,040 a year.
City officials were unable to provide an approximate number of workers within the city of Kansas City who currently earn less than $13 per hour.
In the days ahead, elected officials expect to receive a surge of opinions from local citizens.
“Clearly, this is an important public policy issue that affects a broad variety of Kansas Citians and businesses. We intend to see this process through. I cannot speculate on what will happen in the future, but the city council and I will do our duty to serve the interest of Kansas Citians on an appropriate minimum wage,” said James.
The proposed ordinance does not recognize individuals completing an educational internship or apprenticeship as an employee. Individuals serving on a voluntary basis for charitable, religious, and non-profit organizations are also not considered employees entitled to the proposed minimum wage increase.
Additionally, an immediate family member employed by a family corporation is not defined as an employee who falls under the umbrella definition of an employee.
Supporters of the plan say a growing number of working families in Kansas City still live below the poverty level. They argue that when the private sector doesn't pay a living wage to employees, there is an increased demand in services and welfare programs that taxpayers are forced to assume.
Supporters of the minimum wage increase dodged a bullet this week.
On Friday, July 10, Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a house bill that would have set restrictions upon cities' authority to execute a minimum wage that exceeds the state-set minimum wage. The bill would have also banned plastic retail bags.
“Missouri is a diverse state. In many instances, local elected officials may be best suited to determine the appropriate—and—local—priorities for the citizens who elected them. And it is important that local governments have the ability to build on the minimum standards that are set at the state level. House Bill No. 722 instead usurps local control and supplants it with edicts emanating from Jefferson City,” Nixon wrote in his veto letter.
Succeeding Nixon's veto, James said the city council will move forward with discussions to raise the minimum wage in Kansas City.
“With a stroke of his pen, Gov. Nixon has upheld local control,” said James Friday.
The contentious minimum wage initiative in Kansas City has come a long way since it was introduced four months ago by Third District Councilman Jermaine Reed.
The plan initially was reviewed by the Planning, Zoning, and Economic Development Committee. One month later, the proposed ordinance was re-introduced to a Committee of the Whole where all members of the city council were in attendance.
Over the past few months the committee heard public testimony and presentations by Scott Helm, a community organizer in Village Square; Rev. Dr. Vernon Howard Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City; William G. Greiner, chief investment strategist with Mariner Wealth Advisors; and Bud Nicol, executive director, Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Kansas City.
Fourteen associations, representing a variety of jobs in the private sector, said they will still challenge the decision in court should city officials adopt a minimum wage that is distinct from the statewide minimum wage. They argued that establishing a higher minimum wage that exceeds the state-mandated minimum wage will prevent some Kansas City businesses from flourishing.
In a letter addressed to James, Joseph Ruggeri, president of the Missouri Hotel and Lodging Association, said an increase in the minimum wage in Kansas City could inadvertently increase unemployment and put first-time job seekers at a disadvantage.
“The measure would undermine hoteliers' abilities to effectively run their businesses, as hotels operate under remarkably thin margins. The ability to maintain and acquire employees is a delicate proposition and a city directive mandating small businesses absorb additional labor costs is unreasonable. In some cases, employers may be driven to reduce the size of their workforces, delay hiring new employees, or in the worst cases, companies will be forced to close their doors,” wrote Ruggeri.
On Sunday evening, more than a dozen people voiced their opinions on the topic to The Landmark via email and social media. Some of those comments are printed below:
Chris Seufert, attorney and chairman of the Platte County Republican Central Committee said, “Am I missing something? State statute 67.1571 reads: 'No municipality. . .shall establish, mandate or otherwise require a minimum wage that exceeds the state minimum wage.' How does Kansas City have the power to raise its minimum wage higher that the state minimum wage?”
Jeff Campbell told The Landmark, “I've heard all the arguments about minimum wage jobs being for minimum skill sets, but we've also (both political persuasions) seemed to support policies that either shipped jobs away or favored the giant corporations to the point that smaller and medium sized companies can't compete and therefore allow those large corporations to set the terms of employment and wages.”
Eric Lewis told The Landmark, “American companies have created economic inequality for the 'millennials' generation. All that's left for the most part are retail and fast food jobs. With our workforce getting much older (older than India and China), we are not grooming the future of our country very well. Raising the minimum wage is a short term fix to a long term problem.”
Nancy Greinke of Platte County said, “I think what will be interesting is that some people will move into different earnings brackets, which will then drop them from being eligible for some assistance programs. Watch them raise the cap on the assistance programs or people will ask for fewer hours to stay under the cap.”