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Fight to maintain minimum wage

Close to 50 low wage workers and organizers protested outside the McDonald's on Hampton Ave. on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2017, to maintain the $10 minimum wage set by a St. Louis City ordinance. A state law passed by Missouri legislators will reduce the city minimum wage back to the state level of $7.70 on August 28, 2017. Photo by Laurie Skrivan | lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

St. Louis hourly workers benefited briefly last year from an ordinance raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour within the city, well above Missouri’s then-statewide level of $7.70. It was a recognition by city leaders that the state rate wasn’t adequate for working people to raise families.

It took just four months for the Republican-led Legislature to step in and override the city ordinance with a state law forcing St. Louis’ minimum wage back down to the lower state standard. It was a stark illustration of the GOP’s callousness toward the working poor, not to mention the shallowness of its own supposed dedication to the concept of local self-governance.

Now workers will have a chance at the polling place to regain that lost ground — not just in St. Louis, but throughout the state. Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft last week certified the necessary signatures to place on the November ballot a gradual statewide minimum-wage increase that would take it to $12 an hour by 2023. That election is still three months away, but the time is now for proponents to start whipping up support for this necessary override of the Legislature.

Proposition B in November will raise the current state minimum wage to $8.60 in 2019, and then by 85 cents each year until it reaches $12 in 2023.

In contrast to the sharp jump of St. Louis’ brief minimum wage hike, this will give employers a chance to adjust with relatively low hikes that build over time. And it will give workers something closer to a living wage. That’s a crucial component if Missouri wants to increase its population and restore life to its cities. Besides, putting extra money in the hands of baseline consumers is the fastest and most surefire way to generate healthy economic churn.

As Scott Sandler, owner of Pizza Head in St. Louis and a supporter of the measure, put it last week: “It’s important to look at wages as an investment instead of a cost. The return on investment includes lower employee turnover, which saves time and money in hiring, training and managing new employees. It includes better customer service and higher productivity. And it builds a stronger economy.”

Ballot initiatives aren’t the best way to run a state, but with a Legislature so hostile to workers’ rights and needs, there is little choice on this issue and another: Missourians will decide this Tuesday on Proposition A, on asking if they want to sustain “right-to-work” legislation that would erode labor bargaining power. We have already argued that “no” is the right vote on Prop A. If voters agree, it should send legislators a strong signal of how this state’s working class views pocketbook and labor issues. Legislators mess with them at their peril.