Community activists and labor interests in Missouri are getting an early start on combating efforts next year to cap the state’s minimum wage and turn Missouri into a right-to-work state.
Lawmakers failed to freeze the state’s minimum wage during this year’s session, and the right-to-work issue only got a few hours of debate with no vote.
But Mary Albert, pastor of Epiphany United Church of Christ in St. Louis, says those issues are not going away.
“As long as we’re cutting off unemployment benefits early, as long as these issues keep coming up in bills, we need to keep these issues in front of the public’s eye," Albert said.
And to do that, advocates have unveiled a campaign called, “We are One Missouri.” It will focus on registering new voters and pressing lawmakers to create jobs that pay a living wage.
On the issue of minimum wage, supporters say automatic increases built in to the state’s minimum wage law help low-income working families make ends meet and put more money into the economy. State Senator Luann Ridgeway (R, Smithville) disagrees.
“We have to have entry-level wages for entry-level jobs, so that the people who work their way up the pay scale have room for advancement and growth," Ridgeway said. "When we price entry-level workers out of the market, that just simply means we’re going to have more unemployed entry-level workers.”
The “We are One Missouri” campaign also opposes right-to-work efforts, saying that it would result in lower wages for workers while benefitting corporate interests.
Ridgeway says Missouri is losing out on manufacturing and high-tech jobs because it’s not a right-to-work state. In those states, a non-union employee can refuse to pay union dues, even if a majority of co-workers have voted to unionize.