With a vote on raising Missouri's minimum wage less than three months away, more than a dozen Joplin businesses have indicated support for a proposition that would increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour when it takes full effect by 2023.
If approved at the polls, the measure would hike the minimum wage from $7.85 to $8.60 in January 2019 and then increase it yearly before topping out at $12 an hour in 2023. The initiative will appear on the November ballot as Proposition B.
The proposition is being opposed by Associated Industries of Missouri and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry because it will increase the cost of doing business.
Shortly after the initiative was certified by the secretary of state, a coalition of businesses announced support for the measure. The group, Missouri Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, has more than 350 signatories, including 14 in Joplin and more than 50 in Springfield.
The 14 in Joplin are Dinosaur Academy, Carmen's Apples and More, Home Town Siding, Forget Me Not Flea Market, Hardwood Creations, The Bruncheonette, Bearded Lady Coffee Roasters, Makayla Grace Designs, MEs Place Soulfood Cafe, Affordable Cycle Parts and More, Anderson Glass, Tint-N-More, Quinn's Custom Framing and Frosted Cakerie.
Adam Francis started Bearded Lady Coffee Roasters about two years ago and brews all of his coffee at his home. His coffee can be found in storefronts in Joplin and Carthage, and he also sets up stands in businesses periodically. He was at the Frosted Cakerie on Wednesday.
Francis said he believes the minimum wage should be enough for a full-time employee to afford what society generally considers to be the necessities in life. Francis said he doesn't think the current minimum wage provides that.
"I feel like Joplin is a very affordable place to live," Francis said, "But even with as affordable as a place like Joplin, I feel like sometimes it's hard for a person making the current minimum wage to really get by."
Other advocates of a higher minimum wage, including Sean Flanagan, owner of The Bruncheonette, say a higher wage keeps employees from leaving and boosts employee satisfaction. Flanagan said a lot of minimum wage workers in the restaurant industry often have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.
"We pay our employees more than minimum wage, and we barely have any turnover," Flanagan said. "Full-time people aren't working two jobs, and they're coming to work happy."
Minimum wage increases have historically met resistance from business associations, including the Associated Industries of Missouri and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Both do not support an increase to the minimum wage, arguing it drives up the costs of doing business and hurts employees.
The Associated Industries of Missouri has opposed previous efforts in both the Legislature and at the ballot box to increase the minimum wage.
"Business owners have to make a decision: If they have to pay more to each of their employees, then that means that they may be able to hire fewer employees, especially those who are just entering the job market," CEO Ray McCarty said. "By raising the minimum wage, we're actually maybe keeping some people from having jobs at all."
In an email Wednesday, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the same.
"A minimum wage mandate hurts the very people it is intended to help," spokeswoman Karen Buschmann said. "As the minimum wage increases, the ability of employers to continue to employ workers is damaged, particularly affecting entry-level workers."
The last time Missouri had a minimum wage initiative on the ballot was in 2006. It also was called Proposition B, and it passed with 76 percent of the vote and a margin of victory of more than 1 million votes. An initiative in 2012 failed to gain enough signatures to make the ballot. A recent poll by private news service Missouri Scout shows that an increase in the minimum wage is viewed favorably among a majority of Missourians, with 60 percent of respondents saying they'd approve the ballot measure this fall.
Flanagan said it might be true that a higher wage means higher costs for businesses, but the incremental increase that's proposed in the ballot initiative would help alleviate that. If the initiative passes, Missouri's minimum wage would raise to $8.60 in 2019 and then by 85 cents every year until 2023.
"It just gives everybody time to figure it out," Flanagan said. "There's lots of ways to cut costs, there's lots of ways to make more money, and the gradual increase will give you and your people plenty of time to get it worked out."
Missouri law also provides for an increase or decrease to the minimum wage based on cost of living, which happened this year when it was bumped up to $7.85 from $7.70. The ballot initiative in November would keep that provision in place.
In Southwest Missouri, Robert Keyes, southwest campaign manager for Missouri Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, said the coalition has seen support from a broad spectrum of businesses in communities of all sizes.
"Raising the minimum wage pays off in lower employee turnover, reduced hiring costs, reduced training costs, lower error and accident rates and increased productivity and customer service," Keyes said. "Employees often make the difference between repeat customers and lost customers, so we think it really does make a strong business case to increase the minimum wage."