Op-Ed

Unbelievable avoidance on minimum-wage hike plan

Supporters rallied for a minimum wage hike in downtown Lexington in June.
Supporters rallied for a minimum wage hike in downtown Lexington in June. Herald-Leader

It is said that when you go to the movies you should allow for some "suspension of disbelief" to better enjoy the experience. This is particularly true if you enjoy fantasy or sci-fi films.

But suspension of disbelief should not be required at a city council meeting.

Unfortunately, suspension of clear, critical thinking was needed in abundance to endure the Committee of the Whole meeting held on Sept. 10 to discuss the minimum wage ordinance proposed for Lexington.

Do we really need to hear ridiculous excuses to justify opposition?

For example, we heard that supporting a minimum wage of $10.10 in the year 2019 will disqualify working people from receiving public benefits, so we can't pay any more than $9 per hour in three years.

Really? How can we possibly predict such an impact in 2019 when eligibility for these benefits is calculated by family size, revised annually and depends on the hours a person works? Not to mention the fact that working people don't want public benefits to survive. They want decent wages.

We also heard that we should not pass any law if it might negatively impact even one citizen. Really? Was there ever a piece of legislation that could survive this test?

Establishing a higher minimum wage is opposed by some in the business community. The effort to restrict this ordinance is driven primarily by that opposition.

During the council discussion, there was no debate on a higher wage for tipped workers. It was just assumed that they would remain second-class workers at $2.13 per hour. There was no discussion of including a strong enforcement component, despite the fact that there is widespread abuse of low-wage workers and violations of current labor laws.

And there is yet another delay in the proposed starting date.

The assumed target date for the first increase is now July 1, 2016, a year later than originally proposed. Those pitching the $9 rate suggested it should match Louisville.

However, the first wage hike there occurred July 1. So when Louisville reaches $9 per hour on July 1, 2018, Lexington will be a year behind. Since both measures will then be adjusted to the Consumer Price Index, Lexington will remain permanently behind.

The only way to match Louisville would be to set a 2019 rate higher than $9. Approximately $9.40 per hour would be needed to adjust for starting later, if just matching Louisville is important. Is it?

We praise those on the council (Jennifer Mossotti, Steve Kay, Jake Gibbs, Shevawn Akers and James Brown) who actively support an increase to $10.10. But some on the council shrank from the responsibility and yielded to pressure from those employers who seek to pay the lowest wage allowed.

Slashing wages may increase profits in the short term but inevitably undermines the economy. Wages for most workers in America have stagnated or declined for decades. Business interests, particularly those of multinational corporations, have come to dominate our politics. This dominance has focused on undermining workers, their wages, their capacity to bargain collectively and their rights as employees.

We need to return to the social contract that guided business practices in decades following World War II, when increases in worker productivity were broadly shared with workers instead of just fattening corporate profits and executive salaries.

State and federal politics are gridlocked by shortsighted corporate interests. It is up to local government to do this, and do it right.

Janet Tucker and David Christiansen are co-chairs of Lexington Working Families Campaign

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