Written with assistance from AL.Com
A bill to block Alabama cities from setting their own minimum wages is now law. Gov. Robert Bentley signed the bill,
Thursday, February 25, soon after the Alabama Senate passed the bill by 23-11.
The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to raise the minimum to $10.10 an hour, moving the effective date up from an ordinance passed earlier.
The bill’s passage voids the ordinance passed in Birmingham, according to the city’s legal department. “It certainly is unfortunate and, if it stands up, it is a loss for those who deserve to earn a livable wage in the city of Birmingham and, for that matter, the state of Alabama,” Council President Johnathan Austin said. “But the state obviously disagrees.”
Birmingham officials have not yet said what, if any, recourse the city has. “We will continue to work together to stand and fight for our citizens,” Austin said.
The Legislature has the authority to preempt local ordinances, even those that are already in effect, said Mike Lewis, spokesman for Attorney General Luther Strange. Lewis was not commenting specifically on the minimum wage bill.
The Republican super majorities in the House and Senate put the bill on the fast-track as the Birmingham City Council raced to enact its minimum wage. Other cities in Alabama including Tuscaloosa, Huntsville and Mobile were considering following Birmingham in raising the minimum wage in their areas.
Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook, sponsor of the legislation, said the state needs to maintain a uniform minimum and that Birmingham businesses were not given adequate notice for the change.
The Senate passed the bill after Democratic senators spoke in opposition to the measure for about three and a half hours. The Senate voted 22-11 to cut off debate before passing the bill Thursday afternoon.
The governor’s office sent out an email saying that the governor had signed the bill less than an hour after it passed.
The vote was mostly along party lines, but not entirely.
Republican Sens. Paul Bussman of Cullman and Bill Holtzclaw of Madison are listed as no votes on the Legislature’s website.
All eight Democratic senators voted against the bill. They condemned it as an effort to encroach on local authority and a move that would hurt workers struggling to make ends meet.
“When you lift a person on the bottom, everybody above them is lifted up,” Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham said.
Alabama does not have its own minimum wage, so employers follow the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, last raised in 2009.
Senator Hank Sanders devotes his “Senate Sketches” column this week (see page 6) to explaining his position in support of raising the minimum wage and against the legislation passed by the Republican majority.
“Everything has gone up,” Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison said. “Yet we don’t feel that the working poor deserves a break.” Coleman-Madison has proposed a constitutional amendment that would raise the minimum statewide to $10 by 2018.
Republican lawmakers supporting the anti-minimum wage bill said it would force employers to eliminate jobs, reduce hours or raise costs on customers to absorb the increased labor costs.
“I can promise you employment will go downhill,” said Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, who carried the bill in the Senate.
Austin said he appreciates the support the city council’s efforts have received from many members of the Jefferson County legislative delegation in both the House and Senate.
Joe Keffer, who has advocated for higher minimum wages as part of Raise Up Alabama and the SOS Coalition for Justice and Democracy, disputed assertions that raising the minimum eliminates jobs.
Keffer said workers who benefit from a minimum wage increase, spend the extra money within the community, boosting local economies.
Keffer said it’s wrong for lawmakers to stand in the way of higher minimum wages in Birmingham and other cities because of the state’s high levels of poverty. “What they’re saying is we think business interests are more important than interests of people in these cities,” Keffer said.
Ken Smith, executive director of the Alabama League of Municipalities, said the league did not take a position on the legislation. Smith said that league members were on both sides of the issue.
The bill also prohibits counties from enacting minimum wages, but counties already lacked that authority, said Sonny Brasfield, executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.