Mayor Sly James initially said the ordinance had failed, but after a moment of confusion he announced that the Kansas City Council has enacted a $8.50 an hour minimum wage, effective Sept. 18, 2017.
The ordinance calls for an eventual $13 minimum wage in 2023.
But it might not stand. The Council voted just hours after the Missouri House fast-tracked a bill to prevent cities from adopting a higher wage than the state minimum, which is $7.70 an hour and the current rate in Kansas City.
“Clearly our action today, we’re not 100 percent sure the outcome of it, the effect it’s going to have,” Councilwoman Katheryn Shields said, “but this is our last best chance to pass an increase in the minimum wage.”
Earlier this week, James reiterated his support for a higher minimum wage but said he thought a statewide initiative petition was the way to go about it.
“Because if we do it like this, you know you’re going to be in litigation from the trial court to the Court of Appeals, up to the Missouri Supreme Court,” James said. “Whatever happens is going to come back and start it all again just like we have now.”
James voted against the ordinance, as did Dan Fowler, Heather Hall and Scott Wagner.
Councilman Jermaine Reed cast his vote as “absolutely yes.”
Rev. Susan McCann with Communities Creating Opportunity, one of the nonprofits advocating for a higher minimum wage, says for her, it’s about human dignity.
“That’s the issue today. Will the mayor, will the city council, will our elected officials stand up for working people and do what’s right regardless of what’s happening in Jefferson City?”
Kansas Citians will have a chance to vote on a separate minimum wage ordinance in August, that would make the rate $15 an hour by 2021.
Elle Moxley covers Missouri schools and politics for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.