Missouri coalition aims to put minimum wage increase on Nov. ballot

ST. LOUIS - Missouri's minimum wage workers could be getting a $1 an hour raise next year if a ballot initiative sponsored by the Give Missourians A Raise coalition makes it to the November ballot. The coalition needs to collect about 200,000 registered voters' signatures between now and May for the initiative to qualify.

Currently, Missouri's minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

"About 290,000 Missouri workers would see an immediate raise if the initiative passes in November," Montague Simmons told the People's World. Simmons is the St. Louis minimum wage initiative coordinator for Missouri Jobs with Justice, a key member of the coalition.

He added, "About 180,000 additional Missouri workers who make between $8.25 and $9.25 an hour would likely also see a raise. An increased minimum wage will put upward pressure on all wages as employers adjust wage scales."

The Give Missourians A Raise coalition, a broad-based coalition of unions, community groups, small businesses, clergy and students, passed a similar initiative in 2006 when the minimum wage was increased from $5.15 to $6.50 an hour and tied to the consumer price index. The 2006 initiative passed overwhelmingly with more than 75 percent of Missouri voters supporting the raise.

Polls show similar support for this year's ballot initiative.

According to the Department of Labor, 18 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages above $7.25, the federal minimum. And 8 states saw a minimum wage increase after the New Year - Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington - benefitting 1.4 million low-wage workers and their families.

Nine states set rates below the federal minimum or do not have a minimum wage.

Minimum wage workers in Washington state now make $9.04 an hour, the highest state minimum wage in the nation; San Francisco's minimum wage is over $10 an hour. Among Missouri's neighboring states, only Illinois has a minimum wage higher ($8.25) than the Federal minimum.

The Economic Policy Institute estimates that more than $366 million will be injected into the economies of the eight states that raised their minimum wage this year. Additionally, they suggest that over 3,000 full-time jobs will be created as a result of the increase, as consumer demand increases.

It is estimated that an increase in the Missouri minimum wage would generate $14.4 million annually for local governments.

"Missouri currently has a budget deficit, so any increase in revenue should be welcomed," Simmons said.

Furthermore, the proposed initiative would require tipped employees be paid at least 60 percent of the minimum wage. Currently, employers are only required to pay 50 percent of the minimum wage to these employees. The initiative would also penalize businesses caught violating the minimum wage by requiring them to pay the employee double the unpaid wages, and employees would have three years to claim back wages, instead of the current two-year window.

The current Republican presidential front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, advocated against increasing that state's minimum wage from $6.75 to $8 an hour in 2006.

Then Romney said, "Such abrupt and disproportionate increases would threaten to eliminate jobs in Massachusetts, especially at the entry level."  Romney did support a 25-cent increase.

If Give Missourians A Raise is successful, the minimum wage ballot initiative will also help boost voter turnout for the presidential elections. It is expected that most low-wage voters will vote for President Obama and other Democratic candidates.

"As we go into the 2012 election season it is going to become clear: This isn't just a fight for jobs. It is a fight for jobs with justice, a fight for economic justice and dignity for working people," Simmons concluded.

"It is a fight about the direction of our country because the very nature of this initiative addresses the needs of those who have been most directly impacted by the economic downturn and unfettered profiteering."

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