Now that the Louisville Metro Council has been told it can move ahead on raising the local minimum wage, a group of Democratic lawmakers have announced they’re moving forward with a proposal.
As WFPL first reported Monday, Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell told council members they have the authority to establish a wage rate separate from the rest of the state.
Democratic council members Attica Scott, Barbara Shanklin, and David James are the primary sponsors working on a draft ordinance, which seeks to gradually raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour over a three-year period.
In May, all 17 council Democrats signed a Courier-Journal op-ed supporting such a measure, but its details could determine if the majority caucus sticks together.
“There may be some attempt to make sure everyone is comfortable with the three year, gradual increase,” said James. “And the exact dates those increases will take place on may be open for negotiations. I’m still on three years, but it’s just a matter of saying, ‘Is it July 1 or January 1 for the hikes.’”
According to an analysis by Oxfam America, 61,000 Louisville workers would benefit from a $10.10 wage hike.
Democratic Caucus Chair Vicki Aubrey Welch said members are supportive of the idea, but they need to discuss provisions once a bill is filed.
“One of the issues that need discussion are those who are tipped, such as restaurant workers,” she said. “That I know is one of the big issues that is going to be up for negotiations and how to handle that.”
When the Community Affairs Committee hosted a public hearing on raising the minimum wage in May, many workers who addressed lawmakers said addressing compensation for tipped workers was the moral thing to do.
The council’s Republican members have echoed concerns by national opponents of a minimum wage increase, questioning the wisdom of passing any legislation that would make Louisville Metro’s minimum wage higher than surrounding counties.
Republicans have also said such a proposal could make it difficult for employers to add new positions at a time when Kentucky is in need of jobs.
“I’m not surprised that there are no legal barriers to Louisville doing it,” said Republican Councilman Jerry Miller. “It doesn’t change in my mind whether we should do it. The issue remains, is it something we should do as a city and as the economic engine of the state, which has 7.4 percent unemployment.”
An unknown factor for Republicans and Democrats on the minimum wage issue could be Democratic Mayor Greg Fischer’s role. Some supporters say the mayor has kept the local “Raise the Wage” movement at arm’s length, and in June Fischer suggested a wage increase was not a major topic in the city.
In a statement to WFPL Monday, Fischer said any proposal should seek compromise with business owners.
“We’ll be reviewing the (county attorney) opinion and will be working with the Metro Council and businesses and community leaders to determine if there is common ground that we can reach on the minimum wage,” he said.
Councilwoman Shanklin said she isn’t sure the mayor can be considered a supporter of a minimum wage ordinance at this point, but hopes Fischer will come around.
“At one point he said he was for the minimum wage but there had not been a lot of discussion, and at that time we were having a lot of discussion,” she said. “I’m not sure which way he’s coming from. At that time we were having discussion, and he said he didn’t know about it.”