Alabama Lawmakers Fight Minimum Wage Increase In Birmingham
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Seven-dollars-twenty-five-cents an hour - that has been the federal minimum wage since 2009. It's not enough to get by on in much of the country, so many states and cities have set higher minimums. When the city of Birmingham, Ala., tried to do that recently, the state legislature struck back. Troy Public Radio’s Kyle Gassiott reports.
KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: The fight to increase the minimum wage in Alabama boiled over last week in the wealthy city of Mountain Brook near Birmingham.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We are here as representatives, citizens telling the state legislature, take your minimum-wage-picking hands out of our pockets.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Amen.
GASSIOTT: These protesters are mad that the Republican-controlled Alabama House of Representatives just passed a bill to prevent local governments from setting their own minimum wage. The legislature took up the matter after the Birmingham City Council voted to raise the minimum wage from 7.25 to 10.10 an hour beginning next year. The protest happened here because it's where the bill's sponsor, David Faulkner, lives.
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DAVID FAULKNER: This bill is to help. It is to help maintain jobs for all Alabamians and those that make minimum wage.
GASSIOTT: Faulkner says the bill isn't about keeping the minimum wage low but having it be uniform statewide. Otherwise, he worries businesses will move to places where they can pay their workers less or that their workers will leave.
FAULKNER: If the minimum wage needs to be raised higher than the federal government sets it, then we, as a state, need to look at that, and we need to determine, should the minimum wage be raised or not?
GASSIOTT: Alabama is one of a handful of states that has no official minimum wage. It uses the federal government's amount. Johnathan Austin is the president of the Birmingham City Council. He says a higher wage would help get some workers get out of poverty. Austin says the opposition to the bill is a civil rights issue, like when the state fought efforts to desegregate the University of Alabama.
JOHNATHAN AUSTIN: They are taking a stand in the schoolhouse door the way that Governor Wallace did 40, almost 50, years ago, but instead of it being over access to education, now it's access to fair and livable wages.
GASSIOTT: Yesterday, the Birmingham City Council sprang into action to try to beat the legislature, voting to put its minimum wage into effect today rather than next year. Here's Councilwoman Sheila Tyson.
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SHEILA TYSON: We take care our poor people the worst in Alabama, so what are we going to do, continue to let people starve, live in poverty? And the reason we are sick is because we're not making enough money to take care of ourselves.
GASSIOTT: Two council members expressed concern that moving up the start date meant businesses would have to immediately start paying the higher wage and could be held liable for damages if they didn’t. Alabama's attorney general, Luther Strange, assured business owners, in a statement, that they would have some time to comply with the new law. For NPR News, I'm Kyle Gassiott in Montgomery.
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