Municipal Government

Nation’s Minimum-Wage Wins Kick in on Jan. 1

January 2, 2016 
By Steven Wishnia

New York, NY – This New Year’s Day, minimum-wage workers will begin seeing more money in 19 states and 22 cities and counties around the U.S.

The increases will range from a picayune nickel to a solid $2: A cost-of-living increase will bring Missouri’s minimum from $7.65 an hour to $7.70, while in Seattle, workers at companies that have 500 or more employees and don’t provide benefits will be the first to reach $15 under the city’s 2014 law. 

New York State’s increases, under a law Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed in April that will raise the minimum in the New York metropolitan area to $15 by the end of 2021, will be much more complex. There will be six separate minimums: $9.70 an hour for workers upstate, except in fast food; $10 on Long Island and in Westchester County; $10.50 in New York City at employers with 10 workers or less; and $11 at larger employers in the city. Fast-food workers will go up to $12 in New York City and $10.75 in the rest of the state.

New Jersey’s minimum will rise by six cents, to $8.44. Connecticut’s will go from $9.60 to $10.10, the last of three steps in its 2014 law.

The nation’s highest local minimum will be in the small airport city of SeaTac, Washington, where it will rise to $15.35 Jan. 1. San Francisco’s minimum will go from $13 to $14 on July 1, and reach $15 in 2018.

Laws passed in 2016 will raise the minimum for 11.8 million workers in seven states and 18 cities and counties, according to a report released by the National Employment Law Project Dec. 21. The Fight for $15 movement, the group said, “continued to accelerate… winning major minimum-wage victories from coast to coast.”

Most of those workers are in California and New York. California will raise its minimum to $15 by 2022, under a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in April. Oregon’s minimum will rise from $9.25 to $13.50 in 2022, with a $1 lower rate for rural areas and $1.25 more in the Portland metropolitan area. Voters in four states approved minimum-wage initiatives: Washington’s will reach $13.50 in 2020, and Arizona’s, Colorado’s, and Maine’s will go up to $12.

Several cities enacted laws raising their minimums to $15. Workers in Washington will reach that level in 2020, under a bill signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser in June. Those in eight San Francisco Bay Area cities, including San Jose, will see $15 between 2018 and 2020. Chicago’s Cook County suburbs passed a law in October that will bring their minimum from the state level of $8.25 to $13 by 2020.

Those local measures have produced a backlash: At least 20 states, including Florida, Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin, now have laws prohibiting local governments from setting a minimum wage higher than the state’s. Most were enacted in the last four years.

In May, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report on “State Labor Law Reform” listed such measures as one of ten “tools for growth,” along with pre-empting local wage-theft ordinances. “With the race to increase the minimum wage, add mandatory sick days and additional overtime pay in full swing, states have the option to stop these burdensome regulations before they even start,” the American Legislative Exchange Council, which promotes a model pre-emption law, said in June.

In February, the Alabama legislature rushed through a bill to stop Birmingham from raising its minimum to $10.10 on March 1. The state has no minimum wage, so workers get the federal minimum of $7.25. The Alabama NAACP and others filed a lawsuit in May contending that the measure violated the Fourteenth Amendment as “intentional discrimination on the basis of race.” The only city the law affected, the complaint said, was Birmingham, which is nearly three-fourths Afro-American, and all of the votes for it were cast by white legislators. Federal Judge R. David Proctor heard arguments on the state’s motion to dismiss the suit in late October.

Idaho enacted a pre-emption law in March, with Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter letting it become law without his signature. Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed one on Dec. 19, intended to forestall a Cleveland referendum scheduled for May that would raise the city minimum to $12 in 2018 and $15 in 2021. The state minimum will go up 5¢ on Jan. 1, to $8.15.

Miami Beach defied Florida’s pre-emption law to pass a bill in May that will raise its minimum to $13.31 in 2020. City lawyers told the Miami Herald they believed the state law was unconstitutional.

Campaigns to raise the minimum wage to $15 over the next two years are underway in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and all six New England states, according to NELP, as well as in the cities of Baltimore and Minneapolis.

January 1, 2017

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