St. Louis minimum wage lawsuit now in hands of judge

A St. Louis County judge says he will rule quickly on a lawsuit aimed at stopping the city of St. Louis from incrementally raising the minimum wage in the city to $11 an hour by 2018.

Under a city ordinance passed last month, the minimum wage in St. Louis is scheduled to rise 60 cents to $8.25 an hour on October 15. Missouri’s current minimum wage is $7.65 and adjusts annually with inflation.

Associated Industries of Missouri is one of several plaintiffs in the case. Lawyers on both side of the issue spent two hours in court Tuesday.

AIM and the other plaintiffs argue that the city of St. Louis’ actions are unconstitutional. St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Steven Ohmer told attorneys Tuesday that he would not discuss the merits of the minimum wage, but instead address the ordinance’s constitutionality.

At issue is House Bill 150, passed by the legislature this past session, which included language, that according to attorneys for St. Louis, allowed cities to hike minimum wages until August 28. St. Louis passed its minimum wage ordinance on August 28, beating the so-called “deadline”.

But AIM and attorney Jane Dueker argue that the bill’s language actually did not give individual cities the right to raise minimum wages above the current state level due to legislation passed by the General Assembly in 1999 that forbids cities from doing so.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Dueker told Judge Ohmer that St. Louis’ measure supplants and is inconsistent with state law, exceeds the city’s authority under its charter, and “is extremely confusing and conflicts with a whole host of areas of state law.”

Robert Epperson, an attorney representing the city countered that St. Louis was acting within its rights, calling the issue a local one in that the amount of earnings someone may need in St. Louis for basic needs may vary from elsewhere in the state. Epperson also argued that the city met the new state law’s August 28th deadline.