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Debate Over Federal Minimum Wage Intensifies, But States Don’t Wait

[December 11, 2013]  On December 5, 2013, fast-food workers in more than 100 U.S. cities protested their low hourly wages in a one-day strike, seeking $15 per hour and the right to form a union.  Restaurant representatives called the protests publicity stunts by outside interests, including union groups.

The protest followed President Obama’s speech last week, in which he addressed income inequality and called on the Senate to pass a pending bill that would increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.  (The current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, about $15,000 per year, has been in effect since 2009.)  Even if the Senate passes the bill, the bill appears unlikely to receive a vote in the Republican-controlled House.

Some states are not waiting for the federal government to act.  For example, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island passed measures in 2013 to raise their minimum wages.

Just last week, the Council of the District of Columbia unanimously voted to advance a bill raising the minimum wage for the nation’s capital to $11.50 per hour in 2016.  While the bill still must get through a final vote and a possible mayoral veto, its passage appears likely.

In an apparent first, the D.C. wage increase was part of a coordinated effort with D.C.’s neighboring Maryland counties, who have already approved increases of their minimum wage to $11.50 in 2017.

In Massachusetts, the Senate recently passed a minimum wage bill that would raise the minimum wage from the current $8 per hour to $11 per hour.  The bill now moves to the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Separately, a Massachusetts ballot initiative would raise the minimum wage to $9.25 per hour in January 2015, and to $10.50 per hour in January 2016, with later increases based on inflation.  The ballot initiative recently submitted the required number of certified signatures to the Secretary of the State, and, thus, the question appears likely to be on the 2014 ballot.

Given the current gridlock in D.C., Congress seems unlikely to pass a federal minimum wage increase in the next year.  However, Massachusetts and other states and localities may increase their minimum wages.  Thus, multi-state employers should keep their eyes on the headlines and keep track of the patchwork of state and local minimum wage laws.