Business owners and workers from across Missouri met Wednesday in Jefferson City to turn in more than 120,000 signatures for a November ballot initiative to raise Missouri’s minimum wage.
The initiative, spearheaded by Missouri Business for Fair Minimum Wage and Raise Up Missouri, would increase the minimum wage, starting next year, to $8.60 from the current $7.85, and gradually increase it by 85 cents a year until it reaches $12 an hour by 2023.
“Raising wages for low-income workers would cut government spending and save taxpayer money,” said Lew Prince, treasurer of Raise Up Missouri, “Poverty wages in Missouri cost federal taxpayers $2.4 billion; it costs Missouri taxpayers $335 million.”
Scott Sandler, owner of Pizza Head in St. Louis, said paying workers a fair wage is a good investment for Missouri businesses, leading to increased productivity in workers, better customer service and lower employee turnover rates, which saves money in hiring and training.
“My annual turnover has been roughly 30 percent in an industry that averages 70 to 90 percent annual turnover,” said Sandler, “My margins are around 25 to 30 percent in an industry where the average margin is 10 to 15 percent.”
Some restaurant owners and retailers say that a higher minimum wage puts them a competitive disadvantage, citing studies that question whether a higher minimum wage actually helps workers.
In 2017, Republican lawmakers passed a bill that bars local governments from enacting minimum wages that are higher than the state minimum. Rep. Warren Love, R-Osceola, said last year that it will protect small business owners from going bankrupt, and he cited his own experience as a former restaurant owner.
"Folks, I'm here to tell you, the best way to get a pay raise is to show up early and to work harder," Love said. "The less government could get involved in these issues (the better); it should be between the employer and the employee."
The minimum wage proposal would result in an increase of more than $1 billion in consumer buying power in Missouri, according to an analysis conducted by the Economic Policy Institute. It would affect over 670,000 Missouri workers by the time it is fully implemented, with 460,000 of those workers outside urban St. Louis and Kansas City.
“We figured this is a very reasonable proposal,” said Carl Walz, organizing director of Raise Up Missouri, “This is a way to help businesses transition into a wage that would help people afford basic necessities.”
Follow Erin on Twitter: @erinaachenbach