By SHERI GASSAWAY
St. Louis – Labor leaders, community activists and fast food workers gathered July 1 to encourage St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed to continue standing with low-wage workers in their fight for a higher minimum wage.
The rally was held in front of Hardee’s Restaurant at 601 Chestnut Street in downtown St. Louis. About 50 people attended the event, including representatives from United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655, St. Louis Jobs with Justice and Show Me $15.
In early June, the board introduced a bill that would increase the minimum wage for workers in the city to $15 an hour by 2020.
See previous story: St. Louis City leaders vow to raise minimum wage
However, that proposal hit a roadblock June 26 placing it on an indefinite delay.
Reed, an advocate for labor in the City of St. Louis who has stood with striking fast food workers, has voiced strong support of the recent effort to raise the city’s minimum wage.
SUPPORT FOR LOW-WAGE WORKERS
During the rally, UFCW Local 655 President Dave Cook thanked Reed for his continued support of low-wage workers and his efforts to increase minimum wage in the city.
“We are lucky to have a leader to move this forward,” Cook said, referring to Reed. “No worker in America deserves to get up and work hard and not be able to feed their family or provide them with shelter.”
The Rev. Rebecca Ragland, director of the St. Louis Chapter of the Episcopal Service Corps, encouraged Reed and the board to continue their fight to raise the minimum wage in the city. She said, “We want St. Louis to be a beacon of light in this movement.”
‘WHEN WE STAND TOGETHER’
Landry Fort, a 20-year-old McDonald’s worker, also thanked Reed at the rally on behalf of Show Me $15. Landry took part in the Show Me $15 strike in St. Louis on April 15 – an effort by fast food workers fighting for $15 an hour and a union.
“What that effort taught me was when we stand together, we are strong,” Landry said.
PUSH TO RAISE MINIMUM WAGE
On June 5, the board introduced the bill to increase minimum wage in the city to $15 an hour by 2020. Sponsored by Alderman Shane Cohn, 25th Ward, the bill would set the minimum wage for employees who work 20 hours a week at $10 as soon as it would become law.
The minimum wage would be increased to $11.25 an hour in 2017, $12.50 an hour in 2018, $13.75 an hour in 2019 and $15 an hour in 2020. The wage increase would apply to all business in the city except those with revenues less than $500,0000 or 15 or fewer employees.
Alderman Joe Vaccaro, acting chairman of the city’s Ways and Means Committee, announced on June 26 that he was canceling all further hearings on raising the minimum wage, essentially putting the bill in limbo.
Vaccaro, of the 23rd Ward, became acting chair of the committee after Alderman Steve Conway, its regular chairman, stepped aside from the issue based on a conflict of interest. Conway is chief financial officer for Imo’s Pizza, a restaurant chain that would be affected.
Vaccaro said he has not been able to find the votes to pass a proposal that reached $15 an hour, even gradually. He added that the bill should have been introduced six months ago to allow for more discussion on the issue.
He also called on Gov. Jay Nixon to veto recent legislation passed that prohibits cities from raising the minimum wage above the state level. The law would go into effect Aug. 28 if signed. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Gov. Nixon vetoed the legislation – HB 722 – July 10.)
Cohn has introduced a substitute bill to soften his original proposal. Under the new plan, minimum wage in the city would increase to $15 an hour by 2024, and the initial increase upon passage of the bill would be $8.25 an hour instead of $10. It would then go up 75 cents a year until it reached $15. The new bill also expands exemptions, such as those for non-profit groups and home health care.