Ohio became the most recent state to pass a preemptive law, this time in relation to minimum wage, on December 19th when Ohio Governor John Kasich signed Senate Bill 331. The bill, as outlined by Sara H. Jodka and William V. Vorys in The National Law Review, “prohibits municipalities and other political subdivisions from raising the minimum wage beyond Ohio’s state minimum wage rate, currently set at $8.10 an hour (for non-tipped employees).”
The bill got to Gov. Kasich’s desk because of local elected officials. In particular, Nonpartisan Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley and Democrat Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, asked the Republican-controlled state legislature to rescue their own constituency from the opportunity to choose for themselves as the measure was just slated to be on an upcoming local ballot. The state legislators quickly heeded their request and the bill signed into law by Kasich puts this initiative on ice for the time being.
Ohio’s bill pertaining to the minimum wage resembles legislation pushed by ALEC, specifically, Living Wage Mandate Preemption Act.
This sort of legislation is not new. Thanks to ALEC, in partnership with the National Restaurant Association, states have been stripping away powers from local municipalities for some time now. Cities in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee can’t pass sick leave ordinances because of State Preemption Laws. “Cities in those states no longer have the right to decide whether the people who work there ought to receive a guarantee of sick time with pay,” reported Henry Grabar in a Slate article from September of this year.
Make no mistake, this is an assault on democracy at the municipal level. People living in a given city should be allowed to voice their opinion and leverage local political representatives to improve their lives. Each time a state passes one of these bills, the rights and the voices of worker-citizens are silenced. If democracy can’t be used to improve the quality of life for the average person, what value does it really have? This is the question that everyone in our republic should be asking themselves.
Background of Cleveland Minimum Wage Initiative
Raise Up Cleveland, along with the support of local unions, did the work on the ground to get the Minimum Wage measure on the May 2nd, 2017 ballot, against the will of Cleveland’s local elected officials.
Even before the initiative officially made it onto the ballot, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine outlined why the Cleveland initiative is unconstitutional at the beginning of July 2016, as reported by Leila Atassi of Cleveland.com. According to DeWine, the Ohio State constitution doesn’t allow local municipalities to legislate their own minimum wage since it isn’t expressly outlined.
This news was well received by local Cleveland elected officials. Kevin Kelley and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson have both been public with their displeasure of the proposed measure. In my correspondence with Cleveland City Council Member Anthony Brancatelli, he touted the opinion of Ohio’s Attorney General mentioned above as well as his opposition to raising the minimum wage in a Cleveland-only initiative. Most people within this effort to thwart the minimum wage contended that additional legislation was not needed to avoid raising the minimum wage initiative because they took the non-legally binding opinion of DeWine as assurance of its unconstitutionality.
This unofficial opinion given by the State Attorney General did not thwart efforts by Raise Up Cleveland and local activists in continuing the push to raise the minimum wage in Cleveland. Furthermore, Ohio State Senator Charleta Tavares outlined some holes in the Attorney General’s opinion mentioned above as well as legal avenues that would allow local municipalities within Ohio to raise their wage as long as it meets the state minimum. Interestingly, no local Cleveland Democrats could be found quoting Sen Tavares’ response to the Attorney General. Without getting into the intricacies of how the minimum wage initiative eventually made it through the city council, I just want to highlight that each step was met with resistance from all sides, which resulted in additional work that needed to be completed.
As mentioned above, Democrat and Nonpartisan officials worked together with Republican legislators to block the minimum wage initiative via a preemption bill. Jocelyn Smallwood, spokesperson for Raise Up Cleveland was quoted in a press release saying, “It is shameful that lawmakers in Columbus would interfere with a local democratic process. Voters should have the opportunity to decide—for themselves—whether or not to approve a minimum wage increase. For state lawmakers to deprive citizens the right to vote so that they can make a statewide power-grab is wrong—plain and simple.”
Why Are Democrats Not Backing the Minimum Wage Initiative?
At this point you may be asking yourself, why would Democrats oppose a minimum wage increase? First and foremost, as relayed to me by Tony Brancatelli, both he and Kevin Kelley believe such a large increase in labor costs would cripple businesses and simultaneously divert future business opportunities to other areas.
This sort of argument is all too familiar to those who’ve either been in the battle for higher wages or have closely watched the news wire in cities that proposed such legislation.
In Seattle, the barrage of “end of the world scenarios” was in every publication before and shortly after they passed a minimum wage increase. Mark J. Perry in his overview of negative press, outlined the anti-minimum wage press from “only the strongest of the strongest businesses will survive” to “the new math will break the system” to “it’s not a political problem, it’s a math problem.” This logic was the mantra of the anti-minimum wage movement.
Seattle is a great place to look for data on the effects that a substantial rise in the minimum wage has on the economy on which it is enacted. Barry Ritholtz weighs in on the data in his latest article:
The unemployment rate in the city of Seattle – the tip of the spear when it comes to minimum wage experiments – has now hit a new cycle low of 3.4%, as the city continues to thrive. I’m not sure what else there is to say at this point. The doomsayers were wrong. The sky has not fallen. The restaurant business, by all accounts, is booming (in fact, probably reaching a saturation point when one looks at eateries per capita). I think it’s safe to say we’ve got enough data – over almost two years now – to declare that Seattle has not suffered adverse consequences from its increases in the minimum wage, and has certainly not experienced the dire effects foretold by the anti-min wage crowd.
Cleveland itself has even had its own study done by Innovation Ohio to explain the benefits of raising the minimum wage. Thus, if we look at the figures and realize the barrage of negative ads are nothing more than pro-corporate propaganda, we can continue to push back and continue to raise wages in Cleveland and across the country.
Most importantly, and as the Cleveland situation has spotlighted, we must hold our elected officials accountable to the issues dear to working people’s well-being, regardless of whether they have a (D) or (R) next to their name.