Local governments, like cities and counties, have long implemented local policies—including higher minimum wages—to improve economic conditions.
Local efforts to raise the wage floor have seen a tremendous upsurge over the past six years, mostly as a result of the Fight for $15 movement, which began in late November 2012 in New York when fast food workers walked off the job, demanding
$15 and a union. The movement quickly spread throughout the country, and its impact has been remarkable: More than 40 cities and counties have adopted their own minimum wage laws, and as of late 2018, an estimated 22 million workers have won $68 billion in raises since the Fight for $15 began.
In response to this explosion in local minimum wage activity, a number of states— particularly those with conservative legislatures—have sought to shut down these gains by adopting “preemption” laws that prohibit cities and counties from adopting local minimum wages, as well as a wide range of other pro-worker policies. The state preemption of local minimum wages disenfranchises workers and exacerbates racial inequality when it disproportionately impacts communities of color who are overrepresented among low-wage workers1 and who often represent majorities in our cities and large metro areas.
The most significant force behind the recent wave of preemption laws nationwide is the corporate lobby. Failing to stop the adoption of local pro-worker laws, the corporate lobby has persuaded state-level lawmakers to revoke the underlying local authority to adopt such policies, in some cases rolling back wage increases that were already enacted by city and county governments. In doing so, the corporate lobby has not only captured the political lever closest to the people (their city or county government), it has also hampered the democratic process at its most intimate level.
A total of 25 states have statutes preempting local minimum wage laws. To date, 12 cities and counties in six states (Alabama, Iowa, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, and Wisconsin) have approved local minimum wage laws only to see them invalidated by state statute, harming hundreds of thousands of workers in the process, many of whom face high levels of poverty.
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Jon L. Gelman of Wayne NJ is the author of NJ Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters) and co-author of the national treatise, Modern Workers’ Compensation Law (West-Thomson-Reuters). For over 4 decades the Law Offices of Jon L Gelman email@example.com has been representing injured workers and their families who have suffered occupational accidents and illnesses.