The Legal Battle Behind Kansas City’s Minimum Wage

Kansas City voters recently approved an increase to the minimum wage from $7.70 an hour to $10 an hour by an overwhelming margin. Subsequent annual increases will make the minimum wage $15 an hour by the year 2022. Activists are calling this a win for low wage workers everywhere, and employees throughout the city are celebrating the prospect of a new living wage. However, there is one problem with the new initiative; it may be forbidden by state law.

Rather than joining in on the cheers, members of Kansas City Council are preparing for a lengthy legal battle. What can citizens expect in the months and years ahead?

Missouri Law and Minimum Wage

This isn’t the first time the minimum wage has been the center of controversy. The “$15 an hour mandate” has been the subject of nationwide debate. Seattle was the first major city to adopt a minimum hourly wage of $15, and activists from coast to coast have been calling for other cities to follow suit.

Critics of the plan assert that hiking the minimum wage so drastically will have negative consequences. A recent study by University of Washington economists says that some employers in Seattle haven’t been able to afford the increases. As a result, they’ve reduced payroll, slowed hiring, and even laid workers off. The costs, according to the study, outweigh the benefits 3 to 1.

Perhaps this is one reason why the Missouri state legislature passed a law in May forbidding cities to set their own minimum wages. The ruling is also in response to St. Louis passing a similar measure back in the spring.

The law, which took effect on August 28, will essentially nullify the city-wide resolutions. In fact, St. Louis’ minimum wage has already been rolled back to the previous $7.70 minimum. However, Kansas City Council expects to sign the act into law in the coming weeks, representing the people’s wishes. When the state and the city lawmakers are at an impasse, what happens next?

A Lengthy Court Battle

The only next step is for the resolution to be determined in the court system. At the heart of the matter will be the question of whether the state restriction on city minimum wage hikes is constitutional. Missouri is not the first state to believe cities should not have unilateral power in raising the minimum wage. In fact, Arizona passed a similar law, banning cities from setting their own wage standards. Later, the Arizona Attorney General found that such a law was in violation of the state’s constitution.

We cannot say with any certainty how this will play out in our own state’s court system. However, the process will be lengthy and workers will have to contend with the $7.70 minimum wage in the meantime. Nonprofit groups are also working to raise the state minimum wage to accommodate a fair living wage, which may benefit low income workers in the future. In the meantime, Missouri citizens will have to watch and wait as city officials prepare for the lengthy legal battle ahead.