Missouri’s rollback of St. Louis higher minimum wage prompts coalition to launch ‘save the raise’ drive

By Tim Rowden, Editor, The St. Louis Labor Tribune and Press Associates

ST. LOUIS—Missouri’s forced rollback of the higher minimum wage in St. Louis prompted a broad coalition there, including unions, to launch a “Save the Raise” campaign, to put pressure on low-wage firms to keep, not yank, the $10 minimum wage the city mandated.

If successful, their drive would help 35,000 workers – one of every eight in St. Louis – to retain a minimum wage higher than the $7.70 state level.

The St. Louis ordinance is part of a nationwide movement by cities and states to raise the minimum wage, in the face of federal inaction. The federal minimum wage, $7.25 hourly, hasn’t increased since 2007-2009 and the GOP majority in Congress votes down all raises.

In St. Louis, how the firms – fast food restaurants, retailers, supermarkets and others – will respond is unknown, with at least one exception: Schnuck’s supermarkets said it would undo the hikes it had to give to minimum wage workers who toil at its eight stores in the city.

All 35,000 workers face the potential pay cut because the GOP-dominated Missouri legislature approved a bill nullifying the St. Louis hike and barring other cities, including Kansas City, from raising workers’ pay on their own. Right wing GOP Gov. Eric Greitens let it become law without his signature, criticizing the legislative process, but not the rollback itself.

The rollback has drawn nationwide coverage and derision. The coalition hopes to use that as part of its pressure, which started in late July, on employers to “Save the Raise” and defy the state’s decision. The coalition includes Show Me $15, Missouri Jobs with Justice, faith leaders and others. The St. Louis Labor Council supports the “Save the Raise” drive, too.

The coalition’s efforts include public forums, media outreach, and the petition drive to encourage employers to continue paying workers the higher wage. Businesses that agree to do so will be lauded on the campaign’s website, www.savetheraise.org, and will be able to display signs showing their support.

If businesses roll back the wage for their lowest-paid workers, as Schnuck’s said it would do, Save the Raise organizers vow to protest. But they’re also rallying to show support for employers who are saving the raise. They started with a rally in late July in front of the Southwest Diner, a popular St. Louis restaurant whose owner Jonathan Jones said he planned to continue paying his employees the higher wage.

“Even if Gov. Greitens allows this cruel and unjust law to roll back wages for thousands of St. Louis workers, I’m going to keep the increase in place,” Jones said. “It’s right thing to do for my employees and the smart decision for my business. Businesses that pay their workers a decent wage have lower turnover and improved morale. And the more businesses that take the pledge, the stronger our economy will be because workers have more money to spend locally.”

St. Louis Labor Council President Pat White attended the rally to let the low-wage workers know unions support their efforts.

“When the city passed this, all the businesses that were against it said ‘The sky is falling! The sky is falling!’” White said. “Well, the sky hasn’t fallen and I think if you look at cities like Seattle that have passed a higher wage, the workers turn right around and spend that money in the community. So it’s good for business and good for the economy.”

“The minimum wage went up because workers hit the streets and went on strike for $15 an hour and union rights, and we won’t go backwards,” vowed Bettie Douglas, a local Fight for $15 leader and McDonald’s fast-food worker. She was paid just $7.90 before the St. Louis ordinance went into effect.

“This raise is helping us put food on the table, gas in our cars, and keep the lights on. Now companies like McDonald’s have a choice to make,” Douglas said. “They can either snatch back our raise and take food out of the mouths of children, or they can do the right thing by honoring the St. Louis wage increase and paying us at least $10 an hour.”

Schnuck’s is forcing its lowest-paid workers to scrimp, worker Dennis Shaw, a United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 member, told the Labor Tribune. “When I got a pay increase thanks to the higher minimum wage, I was able to start saving a little money every week and I didn’t have to make hard choices like deciding which bills to pay,” said Shaw. He made $8.30 an hour at Schnucks Culinaria before the higher wage took effect. 

“I’m going to be facing those hard choices again when the wage goes back down, and I’m appalled that the governor would let that happen to me.”

Other low-wage workers are unsure if their employers will “Save the Raise” or not, so they came out into the streets for the cause.

“Having my raise to $10 an hour ripped away by state lawmakers and our governor is heartbreaking, but low-wage workers don’t have time to sit around and sulk,” said Alexis Straughter, a certified nursing assistant at a St. Louis nursing home. “It’s up to us to pressure our employers to do the right thing and maintain the St. Louis minimum wage increase. This is about a better future for me and my two daughters and that is worth fighting for.

Cynthia Sanders, a Service Employees Local 1 janitor at the Wells Fargo Building, got a raise from $8.30 to $10 per hour under the St. Louis increase. But unless Wells Fargo decides to continue paying the higher wage, will see her earnings drop back down. “It was life-changing to get this, and it’s going to be life-changing to have it taken away,” said Sanders, 51, who is raising three grandchildren and cleans four kitchenettes and eight bathrooms per shift at Wells Fargo. “You’ve got children looking at you to be a provider. How do I tell them we’ve got to eat noodles again this week?”

Source: PAI