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National Restaurant Association - Restaurant advocacy helps defeat extreme wage mandates

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Restaurant advocacy helps defeat extreme wage mandates

The Missouri Restaurant Association got another big win in its tenacious fight against extreme local wage mandates  when a judge ruled that a minimum wage increase recently passed by the City of St. Louis Board of Aldermen is not allowed under state law.

The ruling by Circuit Court Judge Steven Ohmer represents the latest in a string of victories for Missouri restaurateurs against city wage mandates that would have threatened restaurant job creation and growth.

Without the ruling, the St. Louis city minimum wage would have reached $11 by 2018 from the current $7.65. The MRA, with the support of the National Restaurant Association, led the court challenge. The first phase of the wage increase was scheduled to go into effect Oct. 15.

And there’s a good chance the increases may have snowballed if they had taken effect, said Bob Bonney, CEO of the Missouri Restaurant Association.

“If not for the work of the MRA and NRA, I can say with certainty that Kansas City would be on its way to a $15 minimum wage, and St. Louis would have been on its way to a $13 minimum wage,” Bonney said. “If it were done only in Kansas City and St. Louis, restaurants likely would have closed and moved to another municipality. In Kansas City, they would have moved to the state of Kansas to get away from this.”

The union-backed supporters of extreme minimum wage increases aren’t concerned with the ramifications of the mandates, Bonney said.

“They can attempt to pass a wage mandate, but they can’t provide a job,” he said. “They don’t understand that restaurants are a low-margin business. When an entry-level worker suddenly makes $31,200 a year, the cost of automation becomes much more  reasonable. You can’t escape and you can’t ignore technology and automation.”

The MRA’s court victory came on the heels of another significant win in Kansas City, where the city council backed off its plans for a $13 city minimum wage due to a new law that clarified existing state law prohibiting states and localities from setting a minimum wage above the state level. Gov. Jay Nixon initially vetoed the law, which passed the legislature in May. However, the state legislature overrode Nixon’s veto in September.

 In the weeks leading up to the veto override vote, local restaurateurs flooded their legislators with letters and calls to explain how high local wage mandates could negatively impact restaurants and restaurant employees. The veto override passed by a single vote in the state senate.

The strong joint effort by the MRA, NRA, restaurateurs and other business groups was what led to success, Bonney said.

“Without the partnership, we wouldn’t be where we are right now,” he said. “We likely would have been unsuccessful.”

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