As Cities Raise Wages, States Push Back

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Missouri and Minnesota are the latest battlegrounds where Republican-led legislatures are determined to block local pro-labor laws.

Gov. Eric Greitens of Missouri, a Republican, must decide whether to approve or veto a bill to nullify an $11-an-hour minimum wage enacted in St. Louis and bar other cities and counties from enacting minimum wages. In Minnesota, the Democratic governor, Mark Dayton, has vowed to veto a measure that would invalidate ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul mandating paid sick days and that also would forbid cities and counties from passing other local labor laws. The pre-emptive provision is aimed at Minneapolis, where most city leaders want a $15 minimum wage.

In both states, lawmakers who are fighting to keep wages low, benefits measly and localities subservient to the states are doing the bidding of their corporate backers.

But political momentum favors higher minimum wages, because low-wage workers are increasingly unable to survive on prolonged, lousy pay. The minimum wage in Missouri is $7.70 an hour; in Minnesota, small employers must pay $7.75 and large ones $9.50. To compare, one adult in St. Louis needs at least $10.42 an hour to meet basic living expenses; in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, one adult needs $11.36. The nationwide “Fight for $15” campaign has increased its state and local efforts, on the reasonable assumption that a raise in the federal minimum, now $7.25, is out of reach in a Trump administration.

Against that backdrop, the resistance of Republican state lawmakers to higher minimums and better benefits is likely to come at a higher political cost than in the past. The harder life gets and the more voices that are raised for change, the steeper the price for standing in the way.

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