Proposal would require some KC organizations supported by city to raise minimum wage to $15

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City is already raising the minimum wage for city employees to $15 an hour by the year 2022. Now, an effort to extend that to organizations the city supports is receiving mixed reviews.

The Kansas City Council’s Finance, Governance and Safety Committee took up a proposed ordinance Tuesday that also require any organization that receives 25% of its funding from the city to pay its employees a minimum wage of $15 an hour by 2022.

It’s an extension of the ordinance sponsored by then City Councilman Quinton Lucas three years ago, giving the same benefit to city workers.

“That we make sure you are paid well and you’re paid what we’re calling a humane wage,” now Mayor Lucas said Tuesday. “That sort of thing that recognizes the hard work these people are doing each day.”

Organizations that fall into this category include KC Pet Project, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority and over 20 nonprofits that receive funding from the city.

“Our workday starts at 7:30 a.m. That’s where they learn about dress for success, for being ready for the future, learning how to get up and go to work on a regular basis,” President of Urban Ranger Corps Erik Dickinson said.

Urban Ranger Corps helps young men 12-18 years old get ready for life after high school. While Dickenson’s full-time employees are paid over $15 an hour, 100 young men are paid $7.80 and hour for work throughout the community.

“We would almost double our salary for our young men, and we wouldn’t have a budget to continue to serve right at 100 boys for the summer for what we do,” Dickenson said.

The affect on organizations like Urban Ranger Corps is one reason Councilwoman Melissa Robinson and Finance Committee Vice-Chair Heather Hall asked for more information before voting to push the proposed ordinance to the full city council for consideration.

“To undercut an agency like that, that’s trying to do that good work and to stifle their mission, I think would be going in the opposite direction in which we want to go,” Robinson said.

Hall agreed that protecting some organizations could be protecting jobs.

“While I completely support everyone being paid a fair minimum wage, what I also want to convey is that the businesses don’t go out of business in the process, therefore not giving anybody a wage to begin with,” Hall said.

Terrence Wise with Fight for 15, an organization lobbying for a $15 minimum wage, rejected that argument.

“We hear all of the scare tactics about businesses going away and us not having a job, but we are living in poverty,” he said.

Wise has been a fast food worker for 20 years and said despite the fact that he has been employed full time, he and his family have been homeless, once living in their van in the parking lot of the Burger King on Troost where Wise worked.

“Getting ready for work in our minivan, the girls getting ready for school in the morning in front of my job out of the minivan,” Wise recalled. “Just memories you can never erase from your children’s minds.”

Wise believes by Kansas City forcing organizations it supports to raise the minimum wage, it puts pressure on the private sector to do so as well.

“It’s a step in the right direction. We’ve got to get all Kansas Citians up to that level,” Wise said.

Lucas said the raise will be a tiered process leading the the $15 an hour minimum wage by the spring of 2022, so there is time to adjust.

“These are the sorts of things that aren’t just a change like turning on a light switch tomorrow,” Lucas said. “Instead, it’s us saying we’re going to be methodical, but we’re also going to make sure that we get into a direction where we are taking care of our people.”

The Finance Committee will continue the discussion at its Dec. 2 meeting.

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