Missouri undermines local democracy, strips St. Louis workers of raise

A Missouri law that undermines local democracy and hurts low-income workers by banning cities from raising their minimum wage took effect Monday.

The same day, McDonald’s cut the wages of some St. Louis workers to $7.70 an hour.

In May, a St. Louis ordinance raising the city’s minimum wage from $7.70 to $10 an hour took effect after a long legal battle. The pay boost was set to help about 30,000 low-income, mostly African-American workers, many of them in the fast-food industry.

But the following month, the Republican-controlled state legislature, backed by restaurant industry lobbyists, passed a measure requiring all local governments to stick with the state-wide minimum, $7.70 an hour. That’s not much higher than the federal minimum of &.25 an hour, and fast-food workers say it’s not nearly enough to live on, much less support a family.

Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, allowed the legislation to take effect, saying the city’s minimum wage =hike would cost jobs.

State laws that pre-empt local minimum wage raises have become perhaps the most effective tool in the toolbox of cooperate interests looking to fight the vigorous campaign to raise wages for low-income workers. Missouri joins 24 other states in passing minimum wage preemption laws, according to a tally by the National Employment Law Project, a labor-backed group.

But the pre-emption wave has gone beyond the minimum wage. As I wrote in The Great Suppression, in recent years, mostly Republican-controlled states have launched a war on local democracy, passing laws that bar local governments from regulating oil and gas development, protecting the rights of LGBT people, and requiring restaurants to tell customers about the nutritional value of their meals, among other issues. Often these pre-emption laws have been driven by the American Legislative Exchange Council, the secretive corporate lobby group. And many of them, including the Missouri law, have served to roll back progressive local laws that were passed after vigorous grassroots organizing campaigns.

Activists in St. Louis now are calling on local businesses not to use the new pre-emption law to cut wages. Over 100 business-owners have pledged to keep paying the $10 minimum. But at least two McDonald’s workers told The Los Angeles Times that their wages have already gone back down to $7.70.

“I was in the process of losing my home and just beginning to catch up on my rent,” grandmother Wanda Rogers told the paper. “It’s going to be a struggle for me again.”


Photo: State Capitol Building, Jefferson City, Missouri (Creative Commons).

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