With Washington gridlocked and many states slow to tackle the minimum wage, more U.S. cities in more states are moving ahead to raise wages. Lexington, Kentucky became the latest when its Urban County Council late last month voted to enact a local minimum wage that will rise over the next three years to $10.10 per hour in 2018. The first increase will raise the local minimum wage from its current statewide $7.25 per hour – the abysmally low current federal minimum – to $8.20 per hour on July 1, 2016, then to $9.15 in 2017 and $10.10 July 1, 2018.

Raise-the-wage

Lexington becomes the second city in Kentucky to set a higher local minimum wage than the state minimum. Late last year, Louisville became the first city in the South to enact a minimum wage increase – to $9 per hour in 2017. While Lexington’s minimum wage ordinance sets a higher hourly pay floor, it includes unwarranted exclusions for restaurant wait staff and agricultural workers.

The Louisville minimum wage ordinance is being challenged in court. Business groups filed suit to block it, arguing that local jurisdictions do not have the right to set minimum wage rates that are higher than the state. A state appeals court upheld the Louisville minimum wage law in June, but the case is now pending before the state’s Supreme Court.

The push for $15 minimum wages notched several more victories last month as well.

The city council in Berkeley, California approved a plan aimed at setting a $15 local minimum wage by 2018 for employers with more than 55 employees, and by 2020 for smaller employers.

In New York, the mayors of Buffalo and Rochester both announced plans to establish a $15 minimum wage for municipal employees by 2021, a move that mirrors one announced a week earlier by Governor Andrew Cuomo setting a $15 minimum wage by 2021 for state government workers. These actions build momentum for Governor Cuomo’s campaign to make New York the first state to raise minimum wage to $15 statewide – a proposal the New York legislature is expected to take up this winter.

Meanwhile, in a sign that the minimum wage is likely to figure prominently in the November 2016 election, Nevada activists are pushing for a 2016 statewide ballot initiative that, if passed by voters, would raise the state’s minimum wage each year starting in 2018 to hit $13 per hour in 2024. The current state minimum is $8.25 in Nevada, but only $7.25 for employers who offer health insurance plans. Activists in Maine, Ohio, California, Washington, D.C., and Oregon have already filed similar initiatives.


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