Friday, June 16, 2017

SPLC supports lawsuit for higher minimum wage in Alabama cities

  A state law blocking Alabama cities from raising their minimum wage discriminates against black low-wage workers by preserving the racial pay gap – evidence that was not considered when a federal court dismissed a lawsuit challenging the law, according to an amicus brief filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Partnership for Working Families.

  The friend-of-the-court brief, filed in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals this week, outlines the racial pay gap in low-wage occupations across the state – such as a nearly 20 percent pay disparity in the food service industry – that could be reduced by allowing cities to raise their minimum wage.

  The Alabama Legislature quickly passed the law in 2016 as Birmingham, a predominately black city, attempted to raise its minimum wage to $10.10 from the federal minimum of $7.25 observed by the state. The lawsuit was brought by several law firms on behalf of two Birmingham residents in low-wage jobs, the Alabama State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Greater Birmingham Ministries.

  “Alabama’s racial wage gap dates back to the Jim Crow era,” said SPLC Deputy Legal Director Sam Brooke. “This law only helps preserve a shameful remnant of that era. The leaders of Alabama’s cities should have the ability to confront this pay gap and raise the minimum wage.”

  The brief notes that as Birmingham attempted such a change, other major Alabama cities where black low-wage workers make substantially less than their white counterparts were considering similar action.

  Legislators backing the law banning city action argued that Alabama needed a uniform minimum wage across the state to avoid burdening businesses. The brief, however, notes that businesses navigate a patchwork of varying business regulations across the state. It also documents how the market wages vary from one city to the next.

  The brief notes that if the state had hoped to establish consistent wages in low-wage occupations, it would have been better served by raising the statewide minimum wage to eliminate variations in the market wages from city to city.

  The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama in Birmingham, where it was dismissed.

  This article was published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

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