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Organizers to ask Wichita to pass minimum wage law

WICHITA, Kan. _ For years, labor organizers have failed to get support in the Kansas Legislature for an increase of the state's minimum wage.

So they're shrinking their focus and are trying to get a minimum wage ordinance passed in Wichita, which would be a first in the state and join only a handful of cities with similar laws.

The "Raise the Wage, Wichita" campaign kicked off Saturday during a Labor Day picnic sponsored by the Wichita-Hutchinson Labor Federation.

"We challenge the leaders of Wichita to take the economic and moral high road," said state organizer Heidi Zeller. "Let's reward hard work with fair pay."

City council members were invited to the event, but none showed, Zeller said.

More than 100 U.S. cities use "living wage" laws that require companies they do business with meet minimum pay standards. But only a few towns, including San Francisco, Albuquerque, Washington, D.C., and Santa Fe, N.M., have true minimum wage laws.

The state's current $2.65-an-hour minimum wage has remained unchanged for 20 years and has fallen to the lowest in the nation. Congress increased the federal minimum wage in July from $5.15 an hour to $5.85.

Kansas lawmakers have rejected similar initiatives, largely over concerns of how a wage increase might affect small businesses.

The state minimum wage law applies to businesses with less than $500,000 a year in annual sales, if they don't engage in interstate commerce, which includes accepting credit cards or shipping goods to or from another state.

Zeller said many of the 27,000 Kansas workers who earn less than the federal minimum wage are restaurant employees.

Jake Lowen, the "Raise the Wage, Wichita" campaign organizer, said 7,000 of those workers are in the child-care industry.

"Even McDonald's employees make the federal minimum wage," Lowen said. "Those who care for our children should not make less than the person who serves you a Big Mac."

Zeller called the state's minimum wage "embarrassing and unjust" and said the group plans to talk with city council members individually to support their plan. She said the idea was borne of frustration over state and federal lawmakers' refusal to ensure wage laws keep up with inflation.

"At some point you get to the straw that breaks the camel's back, and we are at that point," Lowen said.

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Information from: The Wichita Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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