By TIM ROWDEN
The heartless decision to cut by 23 percent the minimum wage paid to 35,000 low-paid St. Louis workers (and to prevent a planned increase from taking effect in Kansas City) garnered a lot of press nationally for St. Louis, but it was not the kind any Chamber of Commerce wants to see.
In city after city, on TV and radio, and in countless online blogs and social media postings, news of the Republican-controlled Missouri legislature taking an already implemented $10 minimum wage away from St. Louis’ lowest paid workers effective Aug. 28 was a hot topic.
And it was only intensified by the cowardly refusal of Gov. Eric Greitens to sign the minimum repeal law – instead allowing the repeal measure to take effect without his signature and a public declaration that he supports a lower wage for workers.
In fact, Greitens ridiculous reasoning for not signing the bill had to have brought laughter to millions:
Greitens didn’t sign the bill, because he said didn’t like the way that politicians in the legislature “dragged their feet for months” leading to different wages across the state. “I disapprove of the way politicians handled this. That’s why I won’t be signing my name to their bill,” he said in a statement picked up by CNN, MSN News, Salon, the Los Angeles News, Los Angeles radio station KTLA and others around the nation.
Greitens knew he was safe in not signing the bill because it had been passed by both the state House and state Senate and, thus, would become law with or without his signature. But he could have vetoed it.
“Signing it would have shown the fact that he is heartless and that he really doesn’t care about the working poor,” state Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D–St. Louis) told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “So what he didn’t want to do is sign a bill to take money out of the pockets of those who already have an increase, but still do so.”
Greitens’ political cowardice in refusing sign or veto the law – lest his actions hamper his well-known goal of running for president – didn’t go unnoticed as other national media jumped in:
The Huffington Post, MSNBC, The New York Times, Washington Post, U.S. News and World Report, the online magazine Slate and many other radio and television stations and online news outlets carried the story, including the Penny Hoarder – one of the largest personal finance websites with more than 19 million readers a month.
Two headlines in the Penny Hoarder’s coverage told the entire story: “The Good (If You’re A Business Owner); The Bad (If You’re A Wage Earner).”
CNN proclaimed: “While many cities raised their minimum wage over the past weekend, St. Louis will soon see a 23-percent decrease.”
“What we’re going to do, is we’re going to keep fighting on the ground,” Nasheed told MSNBC. “We’re going to take this issue to the ballot box so the people of Missouri can decide… if we should have a minimum wage increase… Maya Angelou once said, ‘When a person shows you who they are, believe them.’ Governor Greitens and Republicans have shown the state of Missouri who they really are. They are heartless, and they are cruel to the people they are supposed to be serving.”
Cynthia Sanders, a Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 janitor at the Wells Fargo Building in St. Louis got a raise from $8.30 to $10 per hour under the St. Louis increase, but unless Wells Fargo decides to continue paying the higher wage, she will see her earnings drop back down.
The “Save the Raise” campaign, a coalition of low-wage workers and their supporters, are encouraging businesses to retain the higher wage, even if they don’t have to. (See related story on page 1.)
“It was life-changing to get this, and it’s going to be life-changing to have it taken away,” said Sanders, 51, who is raising three grandchildren and cleans four kitchenettes and eight bathrooms per shift at Wells Fargo. “You’ve got children looking at you to be a provider. How do I tell them we’ve got to eat noodles again this week?”
STATES RAISE WAGES
Meanwhile, progressive cities and states across America are raising their minimum wages:
• Chicago: $11 an hour.
• Cook County, Illinois: $10 an hour.
• Emeryville, CA: $15.20 an hour for businesses with more than 56 employees, and $14 an hour for businesses with 55 or fewer employees.
• Flagstaff, AZ: $10.50 an hour.
• Los Angeles: $12 an hour for businesses with more than 26 employees, and $10.50 an hour for businesses with 25 or fewer employees.
• Maryland: $9.25 an hour.
• Milpitas, CA: $11 an hour.
• Minneapolis: $15 an hour.
• Montgomery County, Maryland: $11.50 an hour.
• Oregon: $10.25 an hour ($11.25 an hour in the Portland metro area, and $10 an hour in counties designated as “non-urban”).
• Pasadena, CA: $12 an hour for businesses with 26 or more employees, and $10.50 an hour or businesses with 25 or fewer employees.
• San Francisco: $14 an hour.
• San Jose, CA: $12 an hour.
• San Leandro, CA: $12 an hour.
• Santa Monica, CA: $12 an hour for businesses with 26 or more employees, and $10.50 an hour or businesses with 25 or fewer employees.
• Washington, D.C.: $12.50 an hour.
In stark contrast, a number of Republican-controlled states are joining Missouri in reducing their minimum wages to the detriment of their workers and their local economies. Among them:
• Iowa – Republican legislators passed a bill in March repealing mandatory pay increases passed by local jurisdictions and barring businesses from increasing the minimum wage past $7.25.
Unlike Greitens, Iowa’s then Republican Governor Terry Branstad warmly embraced the lower wages, holding a formal signing ceremony where he spoke of his desire for a single wage across the state. Branstad later accepted President Donald Trump’s nomination as United States Ambassador to China, a position he was confirmed and sworn into in May.
• Alabama – Last year, the legislature voted to nullify a law passed in 2015 in Birmingham that would have set the city’s minimum wage at $10.10 by mid-2017. Republican Governor Robert J. Bentley, signed the bill within an hour of its final passage.
• Kentucky – The state Supreme Court last year overturned a 2014 Louisville ordinance that would have raised the city’s minimum wage to $9 an hour. In a six-to-one ruling, the court ruled that the local law violated the state constitution.
THE FEDERAL MINIMUM
The federal minimum wage of $7.25 hasn’t budged since 2009.
President Donald Trump’s convoluted statements on raising the federal minimum during his 2016 campaign, according to the New York Times, boiled down to “no” or “maybe a little bit.” He has made no movement to promote the idea of raising the minimum wage since taking office.
Trump has said in the past that raising the minimum wage should be left to the states, which would be fine, as a start, if more governors and state legislatures were willing to do so instead of fighting against municipal and county efforts to raise the wage when state governments won’t act.
The argument for RAISING the minimum wage
Some will argue that minimum wage jobs are meant to be starter jobs and not careers. But that’s an easy way out that ignores today’s economic realities.
Most of today’s minimum or low-wage workers are not teenagers looking for after-school or summer jobs, they’re adults supporting families on the only jobs they can find.
According to the non-partisan Economic Policy Institute (EPI), in a report weighing the economic benefits of a $15 minimum wage, the typical worker earning minimum or close to minimum wage is a 36-year-old woman with some college-level coursework who works full time.
• Fewer than 10 percent are teenagers; more than half are prime-age adults between the ages of 25 and 54.
• More than half (56 percent) are women.
• Nearly two-thirds work full time.
• Nearly half (47 percent) have some college experience.
• 28 percent have children.
When companies pay employees so little they can’t afford the basics like rent and groceries, they are counting on taxpayers to subsidize their inadequate pay with public assistance.
The EPI report found safety-net benefits for low-wage workers and their families make up more than half of spending on Medicaid, welfare (TANF), food stamps (SNAP), and the earned income tax credit, and cost federal and state taxpayers more than $150 billion a year.
Increasing the minimum wage puts needed money in the pockets of workers who are most likely to turn around and spend every extra dollar in their local communities — benefiting businesses, stimulating the economy and spurring job growth.
That’s what St. Louis and Kansas City were going for, but Governor Eric Greitens and certain Republicans in Jefferson City weren’t interested.
Talk about turning your back on the people they are supposed to serve!