Demonstrators gathered in St. Louis to stand in solidarity with workers in Wisconsin

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By Talia Kaplan
KSDK, Feb 27 2011
Video Link Below
St. Louis, MO - About 100 demonstrators gathered in St. Louis on Saturday to stand in solidarity with workers in Wisconsin.

While workers in Wisconsin are protesting a proposal to cut the benefits and bargaining power of Wisconsin's public unions, in Missouri local demonstrators say we have our own battle to fight, the issue of minimum wage.

"The goal of today was to show that workers throughout the country are under attack and we're standing together," said  Lara Granich the Director of Missouri's Jobs with Justice.

About 100 people gathered outside a shuttered Wal Mart in Town and Country, most of them saying they were showcasing their support for the working people in Wisconsin.

"What happens to unionized workers can't be separated from what happens to all workers and were all part of one economy and when union workers bargain better pay and benefits that benefits every worker," said Granich.

She says workers in Missouri are under attack because the Missouri House is considering a bill that would repeal the state's minimum wage.

"In 2006, 76% of Missouri voters put in place this minimum wage... One of the most important provisions in that was Missouri minimum wage would have a cost of living adjustment our minimum wage in the state would rise and fall with the cost of living," said Granich.

But, the bill debated in the House and Senate would kill that and instead the state's minimum wage would be set at the federal level.

"It's disheartening and I'm saddened that the people l elect to represent me are not doing their job," said Joe Wicks, who is a waiter in University City said. He says he struggles to get by. "As a waitor or server I make half of minimum wage right now, $3.63 an hour, the rest is supposed to be made up with tips. I am already stretching myself very thin when it comes to rent, utilities, food ,and gas I can't imagine, as inflation goes up, as the cost of living goes up, stretching myself even farther I don't know if that's possible," Wicks said.

Even some local business owners say they are wondering why the state Legislature is attempting to get rid of a bill that more than 3/4 of Missourians voted for. "I'm appalled," said Lew Prince, a managing partner of Vintage Vinyl in the Delmar Loop in University City. He says changing the minimum wage policy will have an adverse effect on our economy.

"The economics of it are long proven, the more money that stays in the state and stays in the economy and the more that money circulates the better it is for business and the more jobs it creates. But, what's really more important is that I care about my neighbors. I live in a neighborhood in U-City and my neighbors who work minimum wage are barely  keeping their heads above water and now the state Legislature wants to roll back any chance of a cost of living increase," said Prince.

NewsChannel5 spoke with Rep. Jerry Nolte, who sponsored the bill that would do aay with the minimum wage escalator. "The reason we are moving this bill forward is it's a way to keep Missouri competitive with our surrounding states. With the exception of this bill, our minimum wage would go up and exceed that of all our surrounding states with the exception of Illinois," said Rep. Nolte R-Gladstone. "It's mainly to promote economic development and job growth and example would be in Illinois where the minimum wage is 1 dollar higher than our minimum wage a small business with ten employees will spend 20 thousand dollars more than they would be if they were in a state with the federal minimum wage," he continued.

"We hope elected officials here in Missouri will see clearly that they are put in this job by the voters and they spoke saying they want this Missouri minimum wage protected," said Granich.

The bill hits the floor of the House as early as Monday.