Alabama’s governor and legislature Thursday blocked Birmingham’s attempts to raise the city’s minimum wage as they swiftly approved legislation to strip cities of their ability to set hourly pay requirements.
The Alabama senate passed the legislation on a 23-11 vote that largely broke along party lines. Governor Robert Bentley signed the bill into law about an hour later. The legislation voids a Birmingham city ordinance attempting to raise the city’s minimum wage to $10.10, the city’s legal department said Thursday afternoon.
Alabama has no state minimum wage and uses the federal minimum of $7.25. The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour since July 2009. An American working full time – 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year – at that wage would earn about $15,080 a year.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, 29 states have raised their minimum wage above the federal minimum wage. There are also 23 local governments that have increased their wages – including those in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco in California, Chicago in Illinois, Portland in Maine and Seattle in Washington. Only cities have made efforts to raise their minimum wage as high as $15 an hour.
The Obama administration has been supportive of efforts to raise the minimum wage at the local level, the US labor secretary Tom Perez told the Guardian in an interview last year. The administration also supports a proposal currently stuck in Congress that would raise the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020.
“We believe that the federal floor should be $12 by 2020 [and that] would be just enough to get a family just above the poverty line. They are not going to be rich, but they will be just above the poverty line,” Perez said in 2015. “Some states and local governments are going beyond that and that’s just fine ... Seattle is in a better position to know how much above that federal floor they should go. That’s been our position and continues to be our position.”
Birmingham is not the only city that has had to face off with the state government in order to raise its minimum wage. Back in 2014, Oklahoma passed a billpreventing cities and towns from raising their minimum wage. A similar law passed in Arizona in 2013, but it was overturned in court last June.
Alabama: the ‘fight had just begun’
State senator Jabo Waggoner, a Republican from Vestavia Hills, said Thursday that an increased minimum wage anywhere would stall economic development. He said business owners have contacted him, worried they will have to close their doors if compelled to pay employees more.
“We want businesses to expand and create more jobs – not cut entry-level jobs because a patchwork of local minimum wages causes operating costs to rise. Our actions today will create predictability and consistency for Alabama’s economy, which benefits everyone,” Waggoner said Thursday after the bill’s passage.
Alabama Democrats argued that the federal minimum wage is too low for the working poor to provide for their families.
“Somebody has to recognize that we have a working-poor class of people that are not just in Birmingham,” said state senator Linda Coleman-Madison, a democrat from Birmingham. Following Thursday’s vote, Coleman-Madison said that she is sponsoring a new bill that will make the minimum wage in all of Alabama $10.10. “We don’t move until we’re forced to move. ... For once, I’d like for this legislative body to be the leader.”
Birmingham city officials and GOP legislators have been in a race ever since city officials voted last year to raise the minimum wage in a two-step increase. In August 2015, the city council called for an increase to $8.50 by July 1 and $10.10 by July 2017. The plan was approved just two weeks after the council voted to increase its own base salaries.
When legislators began work on a repeal bill in February, the city council came back and expedited the increase in an attempt to get ahead of the legislature. Council members Tuesday voted to make the jump to $10.10 effective immediately, but it could not take effect until the ordinance was published Sunday, according to the mayor’s office.
Birmingham is Alabama’s largest city, with 212,237 residents whose per capita income was about $19,650 between 2009 and 2013, according to US Census Bureau data.
Birmingham city council president Johnathan Austin said Thursday it was a “sad day” for the state but that the “fight had just begun”.
“We’re going to continue to fight for the citizens we’re elected to serve,” Austin said. “People cannot pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they can’t afford boots.”
Bentley had named poverty as a chief problem facing Alabama in his State of the State address earlier this month, when he said too many Alabamians are “unable to break the cycle of poverty and the cycle of dependence”.