St. Louis Aldermen vote to increase minimum wage in city to $11 an hour by 2018

From St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis Board of Alderman has given initial approval to raising the minimum wage in St. Louis to $11 an hour by 2018. The vote was 15-6.

The bill faces one more vote. Throughout the long debate, two factions formed: those who want to see a significant increase in base-line pay and those who fear that an increase will alienate businesses and drive them into St. Louis County or across the river to Illinois. Both sides say they want the best for low-wage workers.

While presenting the bill, Alderman Shane Cohn, D-25th Ward, said the choice was simple.

“$7.65 (the current minimum) is not enough to survive. It is not enough to survive as an individual let alone supporting a family,” he said.

His presentation of the bill was criticized by Alderman Stephen Conway, D-8th Ward, who insisted the bill put workers at risk of losing their jobs when businesses flee to the surrounding area.

“But as our hearts tug for them, do we blindly turn an eye to the economics of what may or may not happen?”

Alderman Shane Cohn, D-25th Ward, speaks in favor of his bill raising the city’s minimum wage by 2020.

These two arguments are at the crux of the debate and continue to play out even as the amount under debate shifted from $15 an hour, to today’s initial proposal of $13 an hour to the currently amended proposal of $11 an hour. This increase would be phased in until reaching that $11 an hour in 2018.

Cohn’s coalition contextualized the vote as a moral imperative, citing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s language in the creation of the minimum wage as a guiding light. Supporters also say it’s a health issue for the region, especially as lower wages restrict access to health care and resources that can lead to improved welfare.

Alderman Megan Green, D-15th Ward, pointed to the choice of implementing a higher minimum wage as one that comes down to class support.

“Are we standing with workers, do we think workers matter or are we more concerned with corporate profits?” she asked her fellow aldermen.

The amendment to lower the proposed increase to $11 an hour came after several practical and linguistic issues with the proposed bill were raised by Ward 24 Alderman Scott Ogilive. An amendment by Alderman Lyda Krewson, D-28th Ward, changed the increase to $11 an hour from the $13 an hour that was in the bill at the beginning of the day.

Rasheen Aldridge, a member of the Ferguson Commission and a longtime activist for a higher minimum wage, said on Monday he would have preferred a $15 an hour minimum wage. But he said the fact that the bill is close to passage is meaningful.

“It’s not a livable wage,” he said. “But we’re actually getting on the right track of discussing that and figuring out what is a livable wage.”

Over the county line?

One of the reoccurring points brought up by opponents of the legislation was that the bill would place St. Louis at a competitive disadvantage — especially since St. Louis County likely won’t follow suit with a minimum wage hike.

After calling the bill “Draconian” to businesses, Alderman Tom Villa, D-11th Ward, said he was concerned that businesses within his ward would simply move over the county line to cut costs. “This thing has some far reaching ramifications,” he said. “The empathy level is admirable. But you have to think of what the ramifications of what we’re doing here are.”

Alderman Antonio French, D-21st Ward, added the legislation could make it harder for poorer neighborhoods to attract businesses.

“We’re telling businesses now as we try to compete to get these businesses in my ward that they can cut their labor costs by 30 or 40 percent if they located they business just a mile or two up West Florissant or up Natural Bridge,” French said. “And they know that the folks in my neighborhood will go to that business as they do now. And so, I think we have to examine the reality of the situation. I do worry that this will increase unemployment in the city. I do worry that this will make it less attractive for the businesses that we are trying to get.”

Cohn, however, contended that French’s augmentations amounted to “supply-side economics.”

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