Rally highlights Missouri businesses paying above minimum wage

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RAISE THE WAGE: Amy Jennewein, speaking at the rally, is a single mother employed at Price Chopper in House Springs, said: “It is wrong to allow poverty-level wages to be enshrined in our federal law.… The textbook definition of minimum wage is that which provides your basic needs for living. It’s ironic, because nobody can live on $7.25.” – Labor Tribune photo
RAISE THE WAGE: Amy Jennewein, speaking at the rally, is a single mother employed at Price Chopper in House Springs, said: “It is wrong to allow poverty-level wages to be enshrined in our federal law.… The textbook definition of minimum wage is that which provides your basic needs for living. It’s ironic, because nobody can live on $7.25.”
– Labor Tribune photo

University City – A traveling, labor-backed coalition promoting federal minimum wage legislation came to St. Louis April 25 and found business owners willing to speak up for the idea.

Americans United for Change held its “Give America a Raise” rally in a place beloved by many music lovers – inside the Vintage Vinyl used record store on the University City Loop.

Organizer Alexandra Townsend, political action coordinator for AFSCME Council 72, said the rallies, held in 20 states, are aimed at showing Congress that people support the federal Harkin-Miller bill, the Fair Minimum Wage Act, to raise the national minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10.

“America deserves a raise,” Townsend said. “We think that bill needs to come to the floor and get passed.”

Other groups and community action groups involved in the campaign include SEIU, UFCW Local 655, Missouri Jobs with Justice, Progress Missouri and Missouri Pro Vote.

BY THE NUMBERS

An estimated 373,600 Missourians would be directly affected by increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10, boosting total wages in the state by more than $821 million.

According to MIT, the living wage in St. Louis is $18,065 to be able to afford housing, medical care, transportation and food. If full-time Missouri workers made $10.10 an hour, they would earn $21,008 a year.

‘THE RIGHT THING TO DO’

Chris Sommers, a St. Louisan and co-owner of the popular Pi Pizzeria chain, explained why his company began paying a minimum $10.10 an hour last year.

“The biggest reason we did it was that it was the right thing to do,” he said

About 165 employees at Pi’s seven locations in St. Louis and Washington D.C. were affected by the decision.

Sommers said raising the wage has reduced turnover and training costs.

“We’ve already seen an increase in moral,” he added.

MORE MONEY TO SPEND

Tom “Papa” Ray, co-owner of Vintage Vinyl, said paying workers above the minimum wage was a matter of “enlightened self-interest.”

“I have a very low turnover,” he said. “And I want my customers to have a little more money to spend.”

Vintage Vinyl has about 20 employees.

“The money we generate, the greatest percentage stays in our community,” he said, noting that money spent at Walmart, or other low-wage discount stores, leaves the community forever.

Missouri State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, (D-St. Louis), has sponsored legislation to raise the state minimum wage from $7.50 to $10 an hour.

“We all know when people make more, they spend more,” Nasheed said. “We all know that this is how you build a stronger economy. Low wage workers are not looking for a handout – they are looking for a hand-up.”

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