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Kansas City, Missouri, Begins Conversation To Raise The Minimum Wage

Elle Moxley
About two dozen members of Stand Up KC attend a roundtable discussion on raising the minimum wage in Kansas City, Missouri.

Business owners, community advocates and civic leaders have until July 16 to hammer out a plan to raise Kansas City’s minimum wage and send it to the city council.

That’s the deadline Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James set at a meeting last month after the council tabled an ordinance for further discussion.

University of Missouri-Kansas City Professor Allan Katz is moderating that conversation. At the beginning of this week’s roundtable, he told people who’ve already made up their mind they won’t have much to add.

Instead, he told them, “Go find seven votes. You get seven votes, you win. The rest of us here have to focus on, can we create a broader consensus?”

The conversation is particularly timely as Missouri lawmakers have sent legislation barring cities from raising the minimum wage to the governor. 

Monday’s meeting focused on outlining the criteria that could be used to calculate increases to the minimum wage moving forward.

For example, future increases could be tied to the consumer price index for Kansas City. That was just the first suggestion of many factors the roundtable will consider.

“We’re not looking to make a business more or less profitable. That’s not the job of the city,” Katz said. “The job of a city is to create an environment where ... people have an opportunity to be paid a wage that’s commensurate.”

Katz pointed out there’s a difference between the minimum wage and the $15 living wage groups such as Stand Up KC want.

But he pushed back after someone suggested a so-called “age wage” to compensate younger, less experienced workers.

“Frankly, that’s the argument they used to make as it related to women in the workplace,” Katz said. “What we don’t want to do is sort of say because someone’s 20 years old, they shouldn’t be paid as much someone who’s 40 years old because they’re doing the same job.”

Katz ended the meeting after asking the approximately 30 stakeholders who attended to whittle their ranks into a smaller work group, suggesting some of the advocacy organizations elect one representative to manage their collective interests.

About two dozen low-wage workers attended the meeting in bright red shirts holding signs that read, “Good jobs and $15 for all.”

“Low wage workers have been stuck in poverty for too long,” says Latoya Caldwell, 32, who says she works six days a week at Wendy’s but can’t provide for her kids. “It’s time for our wages to go up.”

She thought Monday’s conversation was productive but added the onus remains on multi-million dollar companies to pay workers better.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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