JEFFERSON CITY — Hourly wage workers at private and religious schools in Missouri could be exempted from the state’s minimum wage law under legislation approved in the House Thursday.
On a 94-53 vote, the House approved a plan that could result in pay cuts for teacher aides, cafeteria workers and bus drivers. It now heads to the Senate for further consideration.
Rep. Tim Remole, R-Excello, who sponsored the proposed change said private schools are concerned that they will have to raise tuition costs, delay construction projects or reduce services because of the added wage costs.
He also said the change would level the playing field between private and public schools, which are exempt from the minimum wage law.
Remole said many of the people affected by the legislation are retirees who are working at the schools out of a sense of mission.
“They work there because they want to,” Remole said. “No one is forced to work there.”
Missouri voters in 2018 approved a plan to raise wages for some of the state’s lowest-paid workers. The plan requires wages to go up by 85 cents an hour every year until the minimum wage rate hits $12 an hour in 2023. It currently stands at $9.45 an hour.
Democrats decried the proposal, arguing that carving out one job sector from the minimum wage law could begin undermining the intent of requiring businesses to pay a fair wage.
“This bill is essentially telling them they are less than anyone else when they are just trying to get by,” said Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis. “People need to make a livable wage. This is, honestly, shameful that we’re trying to take away money from teachers.”
“Low wage workers comprise a substantial part of the workforce. All of us have low-wage workers in our districts,” added Rep. Judy Morgan, D-Kansas City. “They do valuable work that contributes to our society.”
Rep. Doug Beck, D-Affton, argued that Republicans were pushing a plan that would result in a reduction in wages for workers.
“They will be making 25% less than they are now. A 25% pay cut will not affect their lifestyle?” Beck asked. “I look out for workers.”
Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, called Beck’s argument “silly.”
“We’re just trying to level the playing field,” Fitzwater said. “It’s not an automatic pay cut.”
Nine Republicans joined a solid bloc of Democrats in opposing the legislation.
The legislation is House Bill 1559.