Chattanooga City Council members are pressing ahead on a proposal to establish a citywide minimum wage, even though Tennessee law prohibitsthem from setting it higher than the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.
City Attorney Wade Hinton briefed them on the 2013 law preventing municipalities and counties from setting a wage floor higher than state or federal minimums. Tennessee does not have a minimum wage.
“I’m incensed, incredulous and irritated that our state Legislature would remove that authority from us,” Councilman Moses Freeman said. “Something is not clean in the milk.”
Freeman announced plans to establish a citywide minimum wage last week and peg it to an economic index like inflation. He called the state law “audacious” because it removed power from the city before the matter came up for local consideration.
“I’m not deterred,” he said. “I think we should move forward and examine this.”
The City Council plans to hold hearings in mid-October. Council members will also meet with local delegates from the state Legislature the same month. Wage equity will likely be a topic of discussion then, members said.
There’s already enough support on the nine-member council to establish a minimum wage. During an informal meeting, several members indicated they want local efforts to put pressure on lawmakers to revisit the restrictions.
Council Chair Carol Berz said the majority of minimum wage earners are women, as are the majority of household heads in Tennessee.
“There’s a tremendous wage disparity and we’re just turning a blind eye to that, which is absurd,” she said.
Councilman Russell Gilbert called the state law “disturbing.” He said a parent earning the minimum wage would have to work longer to make ends meet and would not be able to be as active in his or her child’s life.
Councilmen Chris Anderson and Jerry Mitchell said last week they plan to co-sponsor the proposal.