The City Council plans to hold hearings next month examining the impact of raising the minimum wage on Chattanooga workers and business owners.
State law prohibits the city from requiring employers to pay more than the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. Council members hope raising awareness around pay equity issues will pressure Tennessee lawmakers to revisit the 2013 restrictions.
Councilman Moses Freeman said he was “incensed, incredulous and irritated” that the state Legislature had superseded local debate before it had the chance to begin. He and other council members were briefed on state law Tuesday afternoon.
His impromptu announcement that he would seek a citywide minimum wage appears to be supported by a majority of the nine-member council. At least two members oppose the effort.
Freeman said upcoming October hearings will be “well-organized and thorough,” aimed at “making sure we’re doing it the right way.” No firm dates have been set.
Councilman Chip Henderson plans to oppose any efforts to institute a higher minimum wage for entry-level jobs in Chattanooga. He said the city should focus on educational initiatives that move people up the pay scale and improve economic development efforts to bring in high-paying jobs.
“A business owner is the one who has the liability and responsibility for his business,” Henderson said. “They should be able to determine what they pay their workers.”
In 2013, the Republican-dominated state Legislature enacted a bill that prohibits cities from establishing wage requirements higher than the federal minimum.
Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C., have minimum wages higher than the one set by the federal government. Tennessee is not among them. Some cities have sought to establish their own. The Birmingham City Council did so earlier this summer. Local representatives in Memphis also considered it but were stymied by the same state law.
A review by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average mean hourly wage in Chattanooga is $19.25.