- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Kansas City’s minimum wage would rise to $13 an hour over eight years under a measure that was passed Thursday out of a council committee, setting up a possible vote next week.

Low-wage workers, with backing from some religious and labor leaders, are demanding more pay, pushing their case with a rolling hunger strike in which participants take turns going 24 hours without eating. Fast food worker Melinda Robinson, who began fasting Thursday morning, said working mothers such as her deserve to “give their kids what they need.”

But business groups opposing the minimum wage increases question their legality. And Bud Nicol, the executive director of the Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Kansas City, said after the meeting that the “dramatic and drastic” pay increases would “have a crippling effect on business development.”

Council members have made no recommendations on whether the measure should be approved when they consider it again July 16.

Under the draft ordinance, workers would receive their first raise Aug. 24, when businesses with more than 15 employees and $500,000 in annual income would be required to begin paying at least $8.50 an hour. The minimum wage would rise again to $9.15 an hour in January 2017, and be followed by annual increases to $9.80, $10.45, $11.10, $11.75, $12.40 and finally $13 an hour in 2023. Cost-of-living adjustments would be made in subsequent years.

The state’s minimum wage is $7.65, while the federal minimum has remained at $7.25 since 2009.

Workers who are 18 or younger and employers’ relatives are among those who would be exempted from the higher wage.

Councilmember Scott Wagner said there is pressure to move quickly, in part because a petition initiative is seeking a public vote to increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. The city has 60 days to respond to the initiative and time is running out. Wagner also noted that the composition of the council will change Aug. 1 when newly elected members begin their terms.

“I think there has been a very good case that the minimum wage can and should rise,” Wagner said. “The question is, ‘By how much?’”

Calls for higher wages have led to protests in several cities nationwide. Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco are gradually raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour. But a similar effort in St. Louis to reach $15 an hour by 2020 came to a halt in June, with one alderman canceled any further hearings because he said it was wrong to rush such a controversial measure.

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