© 2022 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Up To Date

Mayor James To Speak At Rally For $15 Minimum Wage

Cody Newill
Low-wage workers protested last week outside the McDonalds in Midtown Kansas City, Missouri.

Richard Eiker, 45, earns $11.05 an hour at McDonald's, a job he's held for 25 years. He has no sick pay, no medical benefits or retirement, and even though he makes more than minimum wage, he struggles to pay his bills and take care of his needs.

He’s part of a movement in Kansas City and nationwide to demand a $15 per hour minimum wage.

He says that after 25 years of working every position at McDonalds, he is afraid to leave in search of better pay.

“I’m kind of stuck after 25 years and making $11.05 an hour at 45 years old, I can't imagine starting over again someplace else,” he told Steve Kraske on Up To Date.

On Wednesday, fast food workers in Kansas City will join other low-wage workers in 200 cities in a nationwide strike, demanding a higher minimum wage.

But a city-wide wage hike like the one in Seattle, Washington can’t happen in Missouri. Missouri law prohibits cities from unilaterally raising the minimum wage.

Mayor Sly James, who spoke out about full-time workers living in poverty in his State of the City Address on March 31, is expected to speak at the rally.

Until legislation allows cities to act, fast food workers are pushing for franchises and corporations to voluntarily raise the pay for their workers.

Pastor Donna Simon, of St. Mark's Hope and Peace Lutheran Church in midtown Kansas City, is an ally for low-wage workers in Kansas City.

“Initially [the big corporations] kind of hoped that we would all go away, but what we’ve seen is that the movement is starting to have traction and we’re actually having some wins,” she told Kraske.

Last week, McDonald's announced they they would be giving raises to their corporate employees, which only make up about 10 percent of their workforce. The majority of McDonald's employees work for franchises.

“But it acknowledges we think that they're starting to hear the plight of their employees,” Simon said.

Lydia DePillis, who has been following the nation wide push for a higher minimum wage for the Washington Post, isn’t sold on the idea that corporations are hearing their workers’ needs.

“A handful of major corporations have raised their minimum wages a little bit, but what they’re saying is not we’ve heard our workers who have spoken and in response to pressure, we’re going to do this. What they said is that finally the labor market is tightening a little bit... They’re saying all these business reasons are aligning so they will do it on their own,” said DePillis.

She told Kraske that in general, the idea of raising the minimum wage is popular and several ballot initiatives in different states across the country have passed.

But among those most opposed are small business owners, like Alec, who called in from Kansas City, Mo. His business is in restaurants and manufacturing.

“I’ve got about 40 employees. We pay about 12 bucks and hour, we offer a 401(k), health insurance, paid time off. I did the math and we would lose about $100,000 if I had to pay people 15 bucks. We would go out of business,” he said.

In order to make up for the wage increase, Alec said he would have to do away with all the added benefits, and increase his prices by 25 percent. He doesn't think his customers would pay for that. Big companies like Applebees or McDonalds may be able to afford it, he said, but his small business cannot.

“There are thousands of small businesses that couldn't afford to raise the rates," he said. "We’re talking 40 percent rate hike. This is not an incremental change. This is massive.”

Even for big corporations, a large hike in wages could impact the price of their products and increase what consumers pay at the register.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.