On Tuesday, Feb. 16, a bill that would prohibit municipalities in Alabama from increasing the minimum wage passed the Alabama House of Representatives with a 71-31 vote.
The bill, HB 174 — which was written last year as a direct response to the city of Birmingham’s push for an increased minimum wage — is now set for a vote in the Senate in the coming days.
On Feb. 9, the Birmingham City Council passed an ordinance that would raise the minimum wage in the city from $7.25 to $8.50 as of March 1. The incremental wage increase, originally passed by the council last August, is set to raise the minimum wage incrementally to $10.10 by July 2017.
HB 174, “Would establish the Alabama Uniform Minimum Wage and Right-to-Work Act. It would further specify Alabama’s status as a right-to-work state and prevent local governmental entities from requiring minimum leave, wages, or other benefits for employees, and provide the Legislature with the authority to establish uniform employment policies and regulations of collective bargaining under federal labor laws,” the bill reads.
Alabama does not have a minimum wage and instead uses the federally mandated wage of $7.25.Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook, who is sponsoring the bill, said on Tuesday he hopes it will pass through the Senate because Birmingham could potentially set the precedent for other cities to do the same, which Faulkner believes would spell disaster for job growth in the state.
“People think it’s me trying to keep poor people down,” Faulkner said. “I’m not setting the minimum wage, I’m just trying to keep every individual city in the state of Alabama from giving [business owners] three weeks’ notice about increasing their labor costs.”
Birmingham is the first Southern city to pass an ordinance increasing the minimum wage. Faulkner, who is an attorney, questions the legality of the changes and believes state law would ultimately prohibit the increase.
“I understand that they received a legal opinion that said they couldn’t do it. And yet they took action before they got their legal opinion,” Faulkner said. “I’m probably saving the city from litigation if it did go into effect. I’m trying to do what I believe is right for the people of Alabama. I want people to make as much money as they possibly can, but I also want there to be jobs available.”
Birmingham City Councilor Sheila Tyson said the city was not able to find any state law prohibiting the increase. She also believes that Faulkner is out of touch with the needs of those living in poverty. “I bet he doesn’t know one person making minimum wage,” Tyson said. “I see people every single day struggling. I open my door in the morning and I see these people. He doesn’t.
“There are not enough hours in the week for people making $7.25 to work enough to afford their rent and utilities. And that’s not even getting into the quality of life aspect.”
Tyson said her office has only heard from one small business owner who expressed concerns over the increase. “The main people we’ve heard from have been the state legislators,” Tyson said. “David Faulkner from Mountain Brook said it would hurt small businesses, but how does he know?”
Faulkner said he is aware that his bill has drawn criticism, but he believes the ire is misplaced. He said he is in support of people making more money, but not in a way that jeopardizes small business owners.
“That is a floor set by the federal government back in the 1930s, and Alabama has always had a uniform minimum wage. This bill is to maintain that minimum wage throughout the state,” Faulkner said. “Even though I don’t represent Birmingham, Birmingham is still part of my home. … I’m not bringing this up because of where I live or because I am against the poor.”
Faulkner said that multiple business leaders have contacted his office and outlined their concerns over the increase; either the businesses will have to pass the increased cost on to the customer or they will have to eliminate jobs, he explained.
“You look at who the people are who are making the minimum wage — and the statistics are there — they are usually young people,” Faulkner said. “There are a number of people who choose to make minimum wage, who choose to have a part-time job.” Faulkner added that he knows there are also people who have no choice but to work for minimum wage. “And I want those people to make more money, but not in a way that will eliminate jobs.”
Tyson said that in order to get more people in Birmingham working, you have to offer livable wages. “What is the incentive for getting a job if you can’t even afford to pay your bills or support yourself?” Tyson asked. “People who make minimum wage, by my estimate, can afford to pay $125 a month in rent. Now what kind of place are you going to find for that kind of money? A slum, that’s where.”
Doug Hoffman, director of the advocacy group Engage Alabama, organized a demonstration Tuesday evening in Mountain Brook Village and said he hoped to bring awareness to the Faulkner’s constituents about what their state representative has proposed. Several dozen protesters gathered in the rain to show their opposition to the bill.
“Here we have a high-end attorney who charges $300 an hour who is now trying to stop people from making more than $7.25 an hour,” Hoffman said on Tuesday. “We just want people to be aware of what’s going on here.”
The bill must first pass a Senate committee hearing before it’s taken to a vote. Faulkner said he believes the Senate will vote on the bill in the next few days. If it passes and is signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley, Faulkner said Birmingham’s minimum wage increase will be nullified.