April 18, 2014

Bill strikes minimum wage boost from cities' economic arsenal

Rachel Snyder
The Express-Star


While the issue of raising the minimum wage hasn't gone through Chickasha City Hall, a bill signed Monday prevents cities from raising the minimum wage even if they wanted to.

Gov. Mary Fallin signed the bill, Senate Bill 1023, which prevents cities and subdivisions from setting a mandatory minimum wage rate or a minimum number of vacation or sick days.

The bill doesn't affect the number of sick or vacation days a city can give its employees, according to the bill's summary.

The minimum wage rate in Oklahoma is the same as the federal rate of $7.25 per hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Gubernatorial candidate Rep. Joe Dorman (D-Rush Springs) hosted a "Let Them Eat Cake" rally Wednesday in the parking lot of the Governor's Mansion in protest of the bill.

Dorman said the real median family income has decreased by 1.98 percent in the last three years and the real per capita income has decreased by 1.89 percent since 2010.

"Today, the minimum wage in Oklahoma is below the living wage in every category, and too many Oklahomans work at a low-paying job that does not yield a living wage," Dorman said. "We should be working in a bipartisan manner to ensure a higher minimum wage to secure an economy that meets the needs of all Oklahomans…"

Mayor Hank Ross said a minimum wage increase wasn't and isn't on the city's agenda, but income inequality is a problem in this country.

"I think income inequality is one of those issues that needs to be solved–[the income gap] is wider today than it's ever been, but I'm not sure it's something that can be resolved by [raising the minimum wage]," Ross said.

A combination of better pay for workers, vocational training and education is needed to fully resolve the problem, he said.

Governor Fallin signed the bill in opposition to President Obama's plan to increase the national minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour, according to a press release.

Fallin said a minimum wage hike would stifle job creation and result in increased costs passed on to consumers.

"President Obama and his Oklahoma surrogates say they want to raise the minimum wage to reduce poverty," Fallin said. "They are ignoring the fact that most minimum wage workers are young, single people working part time or entry-level jobs…mandating an increase in the minimum wage would require businesses to fire many of these part-time workers."

Before the bill was approved, people in Oklahoma City were collecting signatures to put the issue of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and 60 percent of minimum wage for tipped workers to a vote.

Central Oklahoma Labor Federation President Tim O'Connor said they've been collecting signatures since March.

"The state just took [the power to raise their minimum wage] out of the hands of cities," O'Connor said."We were on our way to [reaching] that goal when they shut us down."

The bill became effective upon the governor's signature.