Birmingham minimum wage ordinance

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The Birmingham minimum wage ordinance was a city ordinance passed by the Birmingham City Council in August 2015 to establish a base minimum wage for businesses located in Birmingham or contracted to do business with the city. As passed, the ordinance was to raise minimum wage from the federal level of $7.25 per hour in two stages reaching $10.10 per hour in July of 2017 and increasing thereafter with the consumer price index. The council twice moved up the implementation schedule of the ordinance, attempting to enact the change before a state law nullifying their action could go into effect. The sprint was won by the state legislature, which passed an "Alabama Uniform Minimum Wage and Right-to-Work Act" on February 25, 2016. It was signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley the same day.

Background

Calls for a local minimum wage began in earnest in April 2015 as groups of protesters inspired by the national "Fight for $15" living wage movement demonstrated outside the McDonald's restaurant on Clairmont Avenue in Lakeview. That same month the city council passed a resolution, introduced by Jay Roberson, requesting that the Alabama State Legislature raise the state's minimum wage to $10 per hour. LaShunda Scales also stated that the council would consider adding a statewide minimum wage hike to its 2016 legislative lobbying agenda.

Within a week, Republican state representative Arnold Mooney introduced a bill in the Alabama House of Representatives to explicitly prohibit cities from setting local minimum wages. That bill had numerous co-sponsors from across the state, but did not advance to a vote in the 2015 legislative session.

Additional protests were organized by a number of groups, including the Jefferson County Young Democrats, headed by Le'Darius Hilliard. Other groups, such as Engage Alabama, spoke at Council committee hearings to express support for the measure. The JCYD also sent legal briefs to city councilors outlining the case that the city could set its own minimum wage. Council members expressed support for the idea and stated they would research the requirements for establishing a local minimum wage.

Ordinance

On July 18 the council voted 7-0 to pass a Birmingham minimum wage ordinance submitted by President Johnathan Austin. As passed, the city's minimum wage would be set at $8.50 per hour on July 1, 2016, at $10.10 per hour on July 1, 2017, and then would be increased each July 1 by an amount proportional to the increase, if any, in the published Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPl-W) for the Southeast region. The yearly increase to take effect on July 1 would be announced on October 15 of the year prior. Further, any upward adjustments in the federal minimum wage would also be applied, in the same total amount, to the city minimum wage, effective on the same dates. An exception for tipped workers required employers to pay cash wages amounting to at least 50% of the set hourly wage and to make up any difference in workers' actual take-home pay and the base minimum wage, and that they may not require tipped workers to share tip income with their employer.

Councilor Valerie Abbott abstained because the a requested review of the proposal from the city's legal department had not been completed. Sheila Tyson was not present to vote. It was the first such local wage ordinance passed in the Southeastern United States.

In February 2016, Republican state representative David Faulkner of Mountain Brook re-introduced the bill to prohibit local minimum wage laws during a special session of the state legislature. It was debated in the House of Representatives but set aside without a vote. Meanwhile U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu visited Birmingham and expressed the Obama administration's support for measures like Birmingham's. He hosted a round-table discussion at Buck Mulligan's in Five Points South. The restaurant's owner Danny Winter, was already paying more than minimum wage and had publicly expressed his support for the local measure.

On February 9, with the threat of a state law nullifying the ordinance, the city council passed a new measure (No. 16-25), introduced by Roberson, to move the first planned hike, to $8.50 per hour, to March 1, 2016.

Later that month, in the 2016 regular session of the legislature, Faulkner re-filed his bill (HB 174, "The Alabama Uniform Minimum Wage and Right-to-Work Act"). Along with prohibiting future local minimum wage laws, the bill would nullify any pre-existing laws and establish that no county or municipality could pass local legislation to require a minimum wage, minimum leave time, or benefits, and give the state legislature sole authority to establish labor policies, including the right to collective bargaining, in the state. In its words, "the Legislature hereby occupies and preempts the entire field of regulation in this state touching in any way upon collective bargaining under federal labor laws or the wages, leave, or other employment benefits provided by an employer to an employee, class of employees, or independent contractor to the complete exclusion of any policy, ordinance, rule, or other mandate promulgated or enforced by any county, municipality, or other political subdivision of this state."

The newly-chartered Raise Up Alabama, made up of members of Alabama Fight for $15, Greater Birmingham Ministries, Moral Movement Alabama, Engage Alabama; the National Employment Law Project; United Steelworkers District 9; RWDSU Mid-South Council; the Alabama AFL-CIO; and others, organized demonstrations at Mountain Brook Village in Faulkner's legislative district on February 16. The bill passed the Alabama House of Representatives by a party-line 71-31 vote (with one abstention) that same day.

Faulkner explained that the bill was intended solely to preserve a universal statewide minimum wage, to prevent a circumstance where businesses faced a confusing array of changing local minimum wages. An amendment proposed by Democratic representative Darrio Melton of Selma to establish a statewide $10.10 minimum wage was defeated by a 71-30 vote.

On February 23, in its regular meeting, the Birmingham City Council voted again to try to out-flank the legislature by moving the implementation date for the higher $10.10 per hour minimum wage to the following day. That measure (No. 16-28) was signed by Mayor William Bell on February 24, but could not actually take effect until it was published in the Birmingham News, now a thrice-weekly newspaper, on Sunday, February 27.

Attorney General of Alabama Luther Strange issued a statement saying that attempts to enforce the ordinance on such short notice could, "greatly disrupt the Birmingham economy," and that the fact that the matter was under consideration in the state legislature made him expect that, "it will be resolved shortly without adversely affecting the citizens of Birmingham."

The bill, which expressly nullified any pre-existing local minimum wage ordinances, was introduced into the state senate by Republican Jabo Waggoner of Vestavia Hills. The senate passed the measure on a 23-11 vote on February 25, sending it to Governor Bentley, who signed it into law the same day. Two Republican senators, Paul Bussman of Cullman and Bill Holtzclaw of Madison, and independent Harri Anne Smith voted against the bill.

References

  • Underwood, Madison (April 15, 2015) "Protestors outside Birmingham McDonald's demand higher wages." The Birmingham News
  • Bryant, Joseph D. (April 21, 2015 ) "Birmingham City Council endorses campaign to increase minimum wage as legislators move to restrict local authority to do so."
  • Stein, Kelsey (July 14, 2015) "Rally calls for raising minimum wage to $10.10 in Birmingham." The Birmingham News
  • Stein, Kelsey (July 23, 2015) "Raising minimum wage to $10.10 could boost Birmingham's economy, advocates tell city council." The Birmingham News
  • Stein, Kelsey (August 18, 2015) "Birmingham city council votes to increase minimum wage." The Birmingham News
  • Stein, Kelsey (February 9, 2016) "Birmingham minimum wage increase now goes into effect March 1." The Birmingham News
  • Cason, Mike (February 16, 2016) "Bill to block Birmingham's minimum wage clears House." The Birmingham News
  • Owens, Cody (February 18, 2016) "'I’m not against the poor'." Weld for Birmingham
  • Stein, Kelsey (February 23, 2016) "Birmingham businesses need 'reasonable' time to comply with minimum wage, Alabama AG says." The Birmingham News
  • Kelly, Mark (February 24, 2016) "Orwellian Alabama." Weld for Birmingham
  • Stein, Kelsey (February 24, 2016) "Birmingham mayor signs ordinance increasing city's minimum wage." The Birmingham News
  • Cason, Mike (February 25, 2016) "Gov. Robert Bentley signs bill to block city minimum wages, voiding Birmingham ordinance." The Birmingham News
  • Whitmire, Kyle (February 25, 2016) "Why Alabama lawmakers just killed Birmingham's minimum wage." The Birmingham News

External links