The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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July 25, 2012

Advocates on both sides of minimum-wage debate gear up

Separate campaigns to boost the minimum wage around the country and in Missouri are building momentum, and advocates on both sides of the question are gearing up for a fight.

This week, rallies were held around Missouri and elsewhere in the country to draw attention to the issue of the federal minimum wage.

This week marks the three-year anniversary of the last time the federal minimum wage went up, said Sean Nicholson, executive director of Progress Missouri, a nonprofit group supported by churches, unions and community action organizations.

Progress Missouri also is behind an effort to get a $1 minimum-wage increase on the November ballot in Missouri.

Nicholson said the group has more than the 350,000 signatures required to get the measure on the ballot. It is awaiting certification of the signatures by the Missouri secretary of state. That is expected around Aug. 7, he said.

Legislation in Congress, meanwhile — including the Rebuild America Act introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and a similar proposal by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. — calls for stepping up the federal wage floor to $9.80 an hour by July 1, 2014.

The minimum wage in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma is $7.25 an hour, as is the federal minimum wage.

‘A good thing’

Jim Martino, owner of the Mall Deli in Pittsburg, Kan., said Tuesday that he believes it is time for the minimum wage to rise.

“My first reaction is, ‘That’s a good thing,’” he said. “When the last increase went into effect, I was all for it. It affects me directly because we employ a lot of minimum wage-plus people, but it has been years since it was raised.”

Martino said a wage increase might force him to increase prices at his popular destination, but he said it also could be a shot in the arm for a sagging economy.

“Most business owners have to keep their payroll at a certain percentage of sales, so you do what you have to do, but for the general economy it’s great,” he said.

Martino acknowledged that a raise for his minimum-wage earners would mean raises across the board.

“You have some at minimum wage, but for those people that were above minimum wage, you have to reflect that change in their wages also,” he said. “It doesn’t just affect those at the very bottom. It affects everybody.”

Nicholson said that right now, an employee working full time for minimum wage earns barely $15,000 a year.

“If you work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to make a living,” he said.

Pay for CEOs and other top executives continues to rise, and Nicholson said that had the federal minimum wage been adjusted for inflation since it started in 1968, it would be more than $10 an hour.

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