Missouri Republicans waded into the minimum wage debate this week, but not in the way you might think. Governor Eric Greitens, a Republican, pressed a GOP-authored preemption bill into law Friday, forbidding cities and counties from passing their own minimum wage hikes above the state rate.
This law will affect hundreds of thousands of workers in St. Louis, which raised the minimum wage to $10.00 an hour in 2015. The law is scheduled to take effect on August 28th, at which point St. Louis minimum wage earners could see their pay slashed to $7.70 an hour – a whopping 23% cut. Other hourly employees earning a higher wage could see their pay cut as well, in order to adjust for the new wage scale the state law puts into place.
We say ‘could’ because the law does not require businesses to cut their workers’ wages from the $10.00 base. It only gives them the legal justification to do so. Reducing wages down to the state level for existing workers would be extremely unpopular, and all but the greediest of business owners will consider the esprit de corps of their workers before taking such a drastic action. But the new wage floor will likely affect new hires in minimum wage heavy industries like fast food.
When the law passed two years ago, businesses tried to sue to overturn it. One lawsuit made it to the The Missouri Supreme Court, which ruled St. Louis’ minimum wage hike to $10.00 an hour was lawful. Businesses and conservatives activists then turned to the friendly Republican-controlled state legislature, where the preemption bill – a long time GOP tactic – was dusted off and passed, effectively nullifying the St. Louis law.
“As cities have taken action on the issue,” according to Sophie Quinton of the Pew Charitable Trusts, states have pushed back. Legislators in Maine, Minnesota and New Jersey debated bills this year that would have preempted local wage hikes, though none passed.” As many as 17 additional states currently have preemption laws on the books that restrict cities and counties to one degree or another.
Now add the Show Me State to that list. With an ally in White House, expect more Republican controlled states to use every trick in the book to protect corporate interests and deny workers the decency of a living wage. Sadly, it’s working.