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Aldermen support $15 hourly wage for janitors

CITY HALL – Four years after Missouri stopped the city’s attempt to raise the minimum wage in St. Louis, the Board of Aldermen returned to pressure the state to move hourly pay upward.

The pressure came in a resolution the board passed on Friday that supports efforts by the Service Employees International Local 1 to raise the hourly wages of janitors in St. Louis to $15. According to information in the resolution, the approximately 2,100 janitors in the city make a median wage of $10.75 an hour, with some earning as little as $8.60 an hour. 

The resolution urged business leaders here to commit to paying not just janitors, but all workers, at least $15 an hour.

“A resolution sends a very strong letter to the state saying that we’re united for a fair living wage,” 23rd Ward Alderman Joseph Vaccaro said.

First Ward Alderwoman Sharon Tyus said that, having come from a working-class, union family, she understood how important a living wage was.

“When you work, and you’re a woman or anybody else, that doesn’t mean that you don’t need every dime that you make,” she said.

In 2015, the Board of Aldermen passed a bill to increase the minimum wage gradually from $8.25 an hour in October 2015 to $11 an hour on Jan. 1, 2018. Before that higher local minimum wage could go into effect, Missouri prevented municipalities from raising local minimum wages.

Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed said he had spent three years working as a janitor.

“I always tell people that was some of the most rewarding time and work that I’ve done,” he said.

“Your time is the most valuable asset that you have, Reed said to the board. “Certainly, that time is worth at least $15 an hour.”

In his remarks to the board, 25th Ward Alderman Shane Cohn said a person should be able to take care of himself.

“No one should have to work two jobs,” 18th Ward Alderman Jesse Todd agreed. “We must stop this discrimination based on privilege.” 

The resolution says a $15-an-hour wage “would give working families the opportunity to thrive and to make our region more equitable along racial lines.” Paying lower wages increases turnover, absenteeism and staffing costs, the resolution says. 

In another matter related to labor, 21st Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad held off an initial vote on his bill meant to prevent employers from asking during the initial phase of the job applications process whether people had a criminal record. They could ask during the final stage. 

“I’m disappointed that some of my colleagues went behind my back to work with our legal counsel to [introduce] a new board bill that completely dissolved what this board bill does, but I’m not going to be that same monster to you that you are to me,” Muhammad said. “I will work with you on developing a new board bill.”

Muhammad said the revisions changed the structure of the bill and the regulations. 

Twenty-fourth Ward Alderman Bret Narayan, who worked on the revisions, said that he liked the basic concern of the bill but that some finer points needed to be changed. 

As the bill now stands, all of it would become invalid if a court throws out just part of it. It should be changed so only the invalidated part is thrown out, he said. Also, in naming the license collector to enforce the bill, it doesn’t call for that office to hold hearings before licenses are revoked, he said.

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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