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St. Louis could be next to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour

A new bill would make St. Louis the first non-coastal city to hit the $15/hour mark, evidence that the campaign is extending beyond the usual liberal enclaves.
Amy Jennewein speaks during a rally to raise the minimum wage in University City, Mo. (Photo by Jeff Roberson/AP)
Amy Jennewein speaks during a rally to raise the minimum wage in University City, Mo. 

The mayor of St. Louis wants to make his city the latest to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour.

If successful, Mayor Francis Slay’s proposal would make St. Louis the first non-coastal city to hit the $15 mark—suggesting that the fight for $15 an hour is spreading beyond the liberal enclaves where it has so far had most success.

The initiative also underscores how the campaign for higher wages is gaining strength from ties to the Black Lives Matter movement, and from anger over the police shooting last summer of Michael Brown, an unarmed St. Louis-area teen.

RELATED: Low-wage workers take campaign to McDonald’s HQ

A draft bill would raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Companies with fewer than 16 employees or that do less than $500,000 in gross yearly sales. 

“Any American who is working full time should be able to put a roof over their head and food in their stomach,” Alderman Shane Cohn, the bill’s sponsor, told msnbc.

So far, the only cities to go to $15 per hour are on the west coast: San Francisco; Seattle; and SeaTac, Washington. Los Angeles passed legislation last month to join them. Similar proposals are pending or planned for Washington, D.C.; Portland, Maine; Sacramento and Davis, California; and Takoma and Olympia, Washington. A wage board in New York is considering raising wages for the state’s fast-food workers.

Of course, four red states—Alaska, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Arkansas—passed voter initiatives last fall to raise their minimum wages, offering evidence that the cause of boosting wages for low-wage workers has appeal even in conservative areas. But none came close to requiring $15 per hour, which is what many workers in the fast-food and other low-wage industries say is the minimum they need to get by and in some cases support families.

It’s perhaps no surprise that St. Louis is the first heartland city to consider going to $15.

The police shooting last summer of the unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, sparked a broad conversation, both in the region and nationally, about the range of obstacles to success that young black men face. Among those is an economy in which an increasing share of jobs are poorly-paid and irregular, and offer little chance of advancement.

Cohn said he’d been working on the effort since well before Brown’s death, but he allowed that the issues are connected. “If we would have addressed the socio-economic issues that are pervasive in our society, for the last ten years now, do I believe Ferguson would have happened?” Cohn asked. “No.”

Since at least December, Black Lives Matter activists in St. Louis have joined fast-food workers, many of whom are themselves young minorities, on the picket lines. Many Black Lives Matter protests have focused on shutting down Wal-Marts and other large retailers. 

Bettie Douglas, a 51-year-old McDonald’s St. Louis worker who is part of the Fight For 15 campaign, applauded the news of the mayor's proposal. “My gas was recently shut off and it is virtually impossible to feed my 14-year-old son on just $7.65 an hour,” said Douglas, in a statement provided by the Fight For 15 campaign. “Mothers like me shouldn’t have to worry about putting food in our kids’ mouths, especially when we work for multi-billion dollar companies like McDonald’s.”