Kentucky Supreme Court strikes down Louisville Metro minimum wage law
The Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that Louisville Metro government overstepped its authority in 2014 when it enacted a local minimum wage. The high court reversed an earlier ruling by a Jefferson County judge. The court said wages are regulated at the state level and that Louisville's ordinance conflicts with state law.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that Louisville Metro government overstepped its authority in 2014 when it enacted a local minimum wage.
The high court reversed an earlier ruling by a Jefferson County judge. The court said wages are regulated at the state level and that Louisville's ordinance conflicts with state law.
The ruling means employers in Jefferson County will once again be free to pay workers as little as $7.25 per hour -- the federal and state floor -- whereas Louisville's ordinance currently mandates a minimum of $8.25 per hour.
The Louisville ordinance was approved by the Metro Council and signed by Mayor Greg Fischer in December 2014. It took effect with a $7.75 minimum on July 1, 2015. The minimum had been set to reach $9 an hour on July 1, 2017.
At a press conference Thursday, eight Metro Council Democrats and Fischer called on the Kentucky General Assembly to give metro government authority to set a minimum wage -- if not to raise it statewide.
"We believe we should have local control to do this," Fischer said.
Fischer said it's "those who are our most vulnerable" -- elderly residents working part-time -- who are "hurt the most" by the court's ruling.
The decision comes 18 months after the the Kentucky Retail Federation, the Kentucky Restaurant Association and Park Hill-area business Packaging Unlimited sued the city in February 2015, arguing that only the state legislature has the power to set a minimum wage.
WDRB reported last summer that the Louisville minimum wage had little impact in its first year -- mainly because the resurgent local job market has forced employers to pay more even for entry-level workers.
"We note that in our city today, if you are not paying $10, $11 an hour -- you can't find people to work," Fischer said.
Fischer -- who in 2014 threatened to veto a $10.10 minimum wage -- said Thursday that he would be open to setting a higher minimum than the $9 ceiling the council had previously adopted should the city get state approval to set a wage floor.
But Fischer declined to say what minimum he would support.
"I think times have changed (and) I would be supportive of a higher minimum wage ...You see a lot of cities that instituting minimums higher than $10.10," he said.
Greater Louisville Inc., the metro chamber of commerce, said Thursday that employers are paying more than the city's minimum wage without a mandate to do so.
"(C)urrent market forces are already dictating the need for higher wages based on the number of open positions at all levels in our region," said Sarah Davasher-Wisdom, the chamber's chief operating officer.
GLI opposed the minimum wage ordinance. Davasher-Wisdom said the chamber did not want to see "a patchwork of wage laws at the local level differing in our own region."
Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy -- a group favoring higher minimum wages -- called the ruling "a big setback for the tens of thousands of hard working, low wage Kentucky workers scheduled to get much-needed raises that would boost their families and local economies."
Bailey has previously estimated, based on 2013 U.S. Census data, that about 45,000 workers in Louisville would see higher wages once the metro ordinance was fully implemented in 2017.
"It is now up to the General Assembly to take action when they next meet to correct this injustice and ensure more Kentuckians who work can meet their basic needs,” Bailey said.
A copy of the Supreme Court decision is below: