Metro Employee Minimum Wage Bill Expected to Have Little Effect on Local Movement

An ordinance raising the minimum wage for city employees sailed through the Louisville Metro Council last week without much fanfare or opposition. 

Though the ordinance affects only five city workers, some see it as significant in a larger citywide minimum-wage push.

The legislation sponsored by Councilman Rick Blackwell, D-12, will increase the hourly pay of the city’s approximately 5,500 full-time employees to $10.10.

Council members are pondering a similar ordinance that would apply to all workers in Louisville after state and federal efforts failed. Advocates who favor that step argue Blackwell’s bill is a boost to the “Raise the Wage,” fight locally, citing the lack of political backlash in City Hall.

“It’s an amazing sign for the movement,” said Bonifacio Aleman, head of Kentucky Jobs With Justice, a labor rights group.

“Following that ordinance through the process, from the filing to the consent calendar, there was no opposition to it. That was huge to see all council members in agreement that minimum wage for those workers need to be $10.10, that’s very promising.”

Blackwell, sponsor of the ordinance, sees the lack of a debate in the council differently, however.

“It really didn’t affect a whole lot of employees so I think that’s why there wasn’t so much of a push back,” he said.

The hike for Metro employees, which takes affect July 1, will only impact five employees who were deckhands on the Belle of Louisville. The cost to the city is just under four thousand dollars and it doesn’t apply to the nearly 1,000 part-time or season city workers.

“It had limited scope so it’s part of the debate, but it’s a small part of the debate,” said Blackwell. “If you’re looking at a local ordinance that’s going across all areas of the city there’s going to be much more research and much more concern what effect that will have on businesses and our competitive stature.”

If such an ordinance to raise the minimum wage for workers city-wide is eventually introduced, proponents can expect critics to pounce.

“We are watching this as minimum wage is an issue on the federal, state, and local level,” said Susan Overton, a spokeswoman with Greater Louisville Inc. “Our position in general is we’re really just concerned with whatever puts Louisville Metro employers or businesses at a competitive disadvantage compared to surrounding counties or states. That’s what we look at in terms of this issue.”

There appears to be solid support for a wage increase in the council’s Democratic majority.

In May, the entire Democratic caucus signed on a letter repudiating U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., for his assertion that a minimum wage hike would hurt minorities and younger workers. In it the 17 Democrats said raising the wage is “not only sound economics, it’s the right thing to do.”

Any chance of that measure coming before the council, however, appears to hang on a much anticipated legal opinion from Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s office.

Earlier this year, the county attorney’s office said council members had the authority to move forward with a local minimum wage ordinance. At the time Councilwoman Attica Scott, D-1, was a looking to draft such a proposal, saying the lack of movement in the state and federal government was inexcusable.

“If we are more than words and rhetoric when it comes to being a compassionate city, supporting this minimum wage ordinance from the administration’s side is something that to me shows by action that we care about people,” Scott said in March.

In an interview Monday with WFPL, Scott said no such ordinance will be considered until after the attorney general weighs in. Scott wants it to be clear that Metro government can enforce such a law before moving forward.

“There’s no point in filing it and then he says we aren’t able to raise the wage locally,” she said.

A spokeswoman in Conway’s office declined to say when the opinion will be made available, but that Scott will be notified when it’s complete.

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