Lexington’s Urban County Council on Thursday voted to raise the city’s minimum wage.
After listening to dozens of people testify for and against the ordinance for 90 minutes, the council voted 9-6 to gradually raise the minimum wage from the current federal minimum, $7.25 an hour, to $10.10 an hour over the next three years.
On July 1, the minimum wage would increase to $8.20 an hour and would increase to $9.15 an hour on July 1, 2017. The minimum wage would move to $10.10 on July 1, 2018.
Mayor Jim Gray said shortly before the council voted that he would sign the ordinance, which exempts tipped employees and agricultural workers.
Gray had not said if he would sign the ordinance or veto it prior to Thursday’s vote.
31,000 people in Fayette County make below $10.10 an hour
“I support this legislation because on balance it is the right thing to do,” Gray said. “Those who rely on minimum wage are long overdue an increase in pay. If it passes tonight, I will sign it and it will become law.”
Gray said he would prefer that Congress raised the minimum wage so it would be the same across the country but Congress has failed to act, he said.
Councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti, the sponsor of the minimum wage ordinance, thanked her colleagues for the nearly nine months of debate after Thursday’s vote.
“I’m extremely grateful to my colleagues,” Mossotti said as she was congratulated and hugged by those who supported the minimum wage increase after Thursday’s vote. “All I did was listen to the community and acted on their behalf.”
A potential road block is a lawsuit challenging Louisville’s minimum wage. Louisville became the first city in Kentucky to raise its minimum wage in December. A group of businesses sued the city, alleging local governments did not have the authority to set the wage floor. That lawsuit is currently before the state Supreme Court. It’s not clear when the court will release a decision. Louisville’s ordinance would raise the minimum wage to $9 over the next three years.
Louisville’s first wage increase took effect in July. Businesses tried to delay that wage increase, but that request was denied by the courts.
Thursday’s vote came after nearly nine months of debate and several public meetings.
In a packed council chamber at city hall, those who opposed the ordinance warned that raising the minimum wage would result in job losses, possible closure of businesses and higher prices.
Bob Quick, the CEO and president of Commerce Lexington, urged the council not to pass the ordinance and to wait until the Louisville case was settled.
“We continue to urge more study on this issue and a delay of action until after the Kentucky Supreme Court decides the Louisville case,” Quick said. “We also continue to believe that investments in education and training are the best way to provide better income for working families.”
Other small-business owners told the council that they didn’t feel the council had the authority to raise the minimum wage.
Ginny Saville, the owner of Botany Bay, said she believed in limited government. “You guys are not the boss of me,” she said. “If you want to work for me, you can fill out an application.”
But those who supported the ordinance told the council that too many employees in Fayette County make too little to pay rent, utilities and other costs. Companies that pay $7.25 can’t keep employees, they said.
Steve Polston, the director of the New Life Day Center, said the center has placed more than 150 former homeless people in jobs and in housing. Polston said he supports the minimum wage ordinance. Polston said he is a conservative Republican and former member of the state chamber of commerce.
“People who make $7.25 don’t stay in those jobs,” Polston said.
Sen. Reggie Thomas, Rep. George Brown, Rep. Kelly Flood, all Lexington Democrats, spoke in favor of the ordinance. Thomas, whose wife died this week, said he felt so strongly about the issue he came to speak Thursday.
“It would be better if the state enacted this law,” Thomas said. “The state has not acted yet. I hope that we do it in the 2016 session. We have to honor the dignity of work. This legislation provides people with a hand up, not a hand out.”
According to 2013 U.S. Census data, about 31,000 people in Fayette County make below $10.10 an hour. The 2013 census data shows the majority of those employees work in two sectors —19 percent in retail and 19 percent in restaurants. Of those 31,000, about 54 percent work full time, census American Community Survey data shows.
Lexington joins 30 local governments and 17 states that have raised the minimum wage. The federal government has not raised the minimum wage since 2009.
Thursday’s vote was not a surprise. The council voted 8-6 to put the ordinance on its agenda during an Oct. 27 council work session. No one changed their vote. Councilman Richard Moloney was not at the Oct. 27 work session and was the ninth “yes” vote.
Councilman Bill Farmer proposed a last-minute amendment that would change the minimum wage to $9 an hour over three years. It died 9-6.
Those who voted in support of the minimum wage increase include: Mossotti, James Brown, Jake Gibbs, Shevawn Akers, Peggy Henson, Angela Evans, Vice Mayor Steve Kay, Susan Lamb and Moloney.
Those who voted against the ordinance: Amanda Bledsoe, Russ Hensley, Bill Farmer, Fred Brown, Jennifer Scutchfield, Kevin Stinnett.