ST. LOUIS — The $10 per hour minimum wage law in St. Louis will be short-lived, but an effort launching Friday will encourage and pressure businesses to honor the higher wage even if state law doesn't require it.
The "Save the Raise" campaign is being led by a coalition of groups including Show Me $15, Missouri Jobs with Justice, along with faith leaders and other supporters of a higher minimum wage. In addition to public forums and media outreach, organizers told The Associated Press Thursday that a petition drive will encourage employers to continue paying workers at least $10 an hour.
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. On the other side, organizers vow to protest businesses that roll back wages. Those involved in the campaign declined to say if businesses rolling back wage increases could face boycotts.
The U.S. minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has not risen since 2009. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have minimum wage rates above the U.S. minimum, ranging from $7.50 per hour in New Mexico to $12.50 per hour in Washington, D.C. Missouri's minimum wage is $7.70 per hour.
About 40 cities across the country have raised their minimum wage in recent years. St. Louis aldermen in 2015 approved a minimum wage hike to $10 per hour, going up to $11 per hour in 2018. A two-year legal battle followed, before a Missouri Supreme Court ruling in May sided with the city. After the ruling, the higher wage became law and businesses were required to implement it.
For some workers, the raises may not last long.
The Republican-led Missouri Legislature in May passed a measure barring local governments from enacting minimum wages different from the state minimum. Republican Gov. Eric Greitens said in June he would not veto the bill, meaning the St. Louis wage reverts to the state minimum effective Aug. 28.
The state law also knocked down Kansas City's plan to boost its minimum wage to $8.50 an hour in September and gradually increase it to $13 an hour by 2023.
Greitens was in St. Louis Monday to announce an anti-crime initiative, but about two dozen protesters angry over the minimum wage law shouted throughout the news conference.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Greitens defended the rollback, citing recent research from the University of Washington showing that Seattle's minimum wage increase to $15 per hour hurt low-paid workers by costing them hours on the job, resulting in an average loss of $125 per month.
"The same thing was happening here in St. Louis," Greitens said. "Restaurants were cutting jobs, they were cutting hours. We need to make sure we're embracing policies that actually lead to more jobs and higher pay."
But another study released last month by the University of California at Berkeley found the Seattle wage hike boosted pay for restaurant workers without costing jobs.
Bettie Douglas, a 59-year-old McDonald's worker and mother of three sons who live at home, said the raise was a game-changer.
"It's an extra $400 a month, which is huge for me," said Douglas, who also is an activist with Show Me $15.
She recalled spending winter months without heat because she couldn't pay her bill. She worries she'll face similar stress if she loses her raise.
"Everybody that works deserves a livable wage," Douglas said. "We worked so hard for this, and they're going to come back and take it? We're working for billion-dollar companies. They can afford to pay us a decent wage."
Jonathan Jones, co-owner of the Southwest Diner, said his employees will keep their raise.
"It's in our best interest to pay our employees well," Jones said. "It makes business sense for retention and morale in our business itself, but citywide, having more people with spending money is good for business, too."