Judge promises a decision on St. Louis minimum wage hike in October
A St. Louis judge quashed an attempt to temporarily freeze a law raising the city’s minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2018.
And the high-stakes legal battle over the measure is expected to resume next month.
St. Louis Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer denied a request for a temporary restraining order from a group of businesses and business groups. But Ohmer said he plans to make a permanent decision on the law before the first wage hike goes into effect on Oct. 15.
Among other things, the plaintiffs contend that the city doesn’t have the authority to raise the minimum wage – citing various state statutes and court decisions. But St. Louis Counselor Winston Calvert said Wednesday’s ruling bodes well for the battle ahead.
“This is a confirmation that the harm that workers would experience is much greater than the harm that a few large businesses would experience if there was a [temporary restraining order],” Calvert said.
Spencer Fane attorney Jane Dueker noted that Ohmer denied the TRO request because he wanted to have the matter resolved before the city’s minimum wage goes from $7.65 an hour to $8.25 an hour on Oct. 15.
“I am worried about people who have to make decisions now,” Dueker said. “And it’s very disheartening. It’s coming awfully close to the deadline. I don’t think that it alleviates the harm. So I am concerned for the people who have to start making decisions because it will go into effect right away unless it’s finally enjoined by the court.”
Looming over the court’s proceedings is a state legislative bill known as HB722. The Missouri General Assembly on Wednesday overrode the governor's veto of legislation that among other things bans local minimum wage increases. Opinions are divided about what the legislation will mean for the case, especially since there’s a clause that states the bill “shall not pre-empt any state law or local minimum wage ordinance requirements in effect on August 28, 2015.”
“I think whether it’s overridden or not, it’s an acknowledgement by the General Assembly that the city of St. Louis had the authority to pass its own local minimum wage ordinance by Aug. 28,” Calvert said. “And that’s what the city did.”
Dueker disagrees with Calvert’s interpretation. “Obviously the legislature believes if they override this that they do not want that many different minimum wages in the state of Missouri,” she said.
Attorneys will resume arguments in the case on Oct. 6. Calvert has asked for a jury trial, and contended the city has a right to one in this instance. Dueker says she’s never seen a jury trial before in a case over the validity of a law or ordinance.
One person who was optimistic about the trial was Frances Holmes, who works at a St. Louis McDonald’s.
“We’re just going to go keep fighting, keep fighting, keep fighting and hope that everything works out,” said Holmes, who makes more than $7.65 an hour but less than $11 an hour at her current job.