Discussions over a proposal to raise the minimum wage in Lexington to $10.10 an hour over the next three years will continue during a public hearing on Monday.
The Urban County Council heard initial comments from those who support and oppose the proposed increase at a meeting in March that lasted more than two hours. Because of time constraints, nearly 20 people who signed up to speak were not able to do so at that meeting.
The public hearing on Monday will give those who could not speak in March an opportunity to give the council their input, said Councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti, who is sponsoring the ordinance that would gradually increase the minimum wage in Fayette County from the federal minimum of $7.25 to $10.10 over a three-year time period.
It's not clear when the issue will come up for an up-or-down vote before the council's Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee.
Councilman Kevin Stinnett, the chair of the committee, said the minimum wage increase is on the agenda for the June 23 committee meeting.
"I don't know if a motion will come at that time," Stinnett said.
Debate over the minimum-wage increase has been delayed by the council's deliberations over Mayor Jim Gray's proposed $323 million general fund budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. During a budget meeting on June 2, the council gave tentative approval to a proposal to raise the minimum wage for city employees from $7.25 to $8.20 for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Only city employees who are seasonal, part-time employees make minimum wage. The vote during the June 2 meeting was only tentative. The council has not yet given its final approval.
The council's initial support of increasing pay for the city's minimum-wage employees is a positive sign, Mossotti said.
"I was encouraged that the council was behind the increase for city employees," Mossotti said.
University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto proposed in May bringing hourly workers at UK to a starting rate of $10 an hour, a move that would affect at least 600 employees but does not apply to student workers. The proposal still must be approved by the UK Board of Trustees as part of the university's overall budget.
Backers of the proposal for the whole city say raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would benefit 31,000 workers who are currently making less than $10.10 an hour.
"There is such a misconception of who is a minimum-wage worker. Many think it's a high school student who is working after school," Mossotti said. "The data shows it's a white, female age 20 to 34 who has graduated high school and has some college education who is working retail and makes less than $10.10 an hour."
Many in the business community have pushed back against the increase, saying it would make it difficult for small businesses to compete against businesses in adjoining counties whose minimum wage remains at the federal minimum. Others said they are concerned that raising the minimum wage will make it difficult for students or other people seeking jobs for the first time to enter the workforce.
Louisville became the first city in Kentucky to raise the minimum wage in December. Louisville is one of more than 20 local governments across the country to do so. The Louisville proposal would increase the minimum to $9 over three years. The Louisville ordinance did not include raising the minimum wage for tipped employees.
Lexington's proposed ordinance does.
Under the proposed ordinance, tipped workers' minimum wage would increase to $2.41 an hour in the first year; $2.73 an hour in the second year; and $3.09 per hour in the third year.
Mossotti's original proposal had sought to raise the minimum wage to $8.20 starting July 1. But raising the minimum wage beginning July 1 is now impossible even if the budget committee approved it on June 23. Mossotti said Friday she can alter or amend the ordinance to have the raise take place at a later date.
Stacy Roof, president and CEO of the Kentucky Restaurant Association, said she expects several members of Lexington's restaurant industry to speak at Monday night's hearing. Most tipped employees make well above the minimum wage, she said.
"Tipped employees are often the highest paid employees in a restaurant," Roof said.
Kentucky is one of 13 states that has not raised the minimum wage for tipped workers since 1991.
Several people are also expected to speak in favor of the proposed increase, said Sarah Thomas, a volunteer organizer with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a statewide advocacy group.
"We have been working on this issue since Louisville started debating the minimum wage," Thomas said. "We have seen growing support for it throughout Lexington. We have talked to several small business owners who have said they are in support of it."
A group of business organizations — including the Kentucky Restaurant Association — sued the Louisville Metro Council in February challenging whether the Louisville merged government has the legal authority to raise the minimum wage. Oral arguments in that case will take place Wednesday, said Brent Baughman, a lawyer representing the business groups. Roof said they are hoping that the judge will rule before July 1, when the first wage increase in Louisville is scheduled to take effect.
Mossotti said she hopes members of the Urban County Council will keep an open mind during Monday's meeting.
"I hope that the council is open to hearing this debate because it is such an important proposal," Mossotti said. "Everything has risen except for wages."