Report | Wages, Incomes, and Wealth

City governments are raising standards for working people—and state legislators are lowering them back down

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Press release

Executive Summary

On August 28, 2017, low-wage workers in St. Louis, Missouri, became the latest victims of state preemption laws. “Preemption” in this context refers to a situation in which a state law is enacted to block a local ordinance from taking effect—or dismantle an existing ordinance. In this case, St. Louis had raised its minimum wage above the state minimum—but was then forced to lower it back down when the Missouri state legislature preempted the local ordinance.

Ironically, state preemption of labor standards has historically been used for good: to ensure that minimum labor standards are applied statewide. It is only in recent years that it has been so frequently used to take earnings and protections away from workers.

This report looks at the rising use of preemption by state legislatures to undercut local labor standards. It provides an overview of five key areas of labor and employment policy affected by preemption—including minimum wage, paid leave, fair work scheduling, prevailing wage, and project labor agreements—and details the extent and impact of such preemption practices throughout the United States. Finally, it presents ways local governments can push back against state preemption in their efforts to raise the living standards of their residents.

Introduction

In 2015, the City of St. Louis passed an ordinance establishing a minimum wage that was higher than Missouri’s statewide minimum wage.1 In the bill’s preamble, the City’s leaders explained the need for a wage increase for the working people of St. Louis:

WHEREAS, the defining issues of our time include the increase in income inequality, the growing gap between rich and poor, and the obstacles preventing people from rising into the middle class; and . . .

WHEREAS, low-wage workers in the St. Louis region struggle to meet their most basic needs and to provide their children a stable foundation, a safe dwelling, and an opportunity to obtain a high-quality education; and . . .

WHEREAS, minimum wage laws promote the general welfare, health, and prosperity of the City of St. Louis by ensuring that workers can better support and care for their families and fully participate in the community[.]

In 2015, Missouri’s state minimum wage was $7.65 per hour. By passing its local ordinance, St. Louis sought to raise it to $8.25 for many employees working within the city limits, with scheduled increases to $9 in 2016, $10 on January 1, 2017, and $11 on January 1, 2018. Meanwhile, the state’s minimum wage barely budged, rising to just $7.70 during that same time period (and rising only because of an automatic index to rise with inflation).

The city’s minimum wage ordinance did not go into effect until 2017, because an employer group sued the city and had it tied up in litigation for two years. The Missouri Supreme Court upheld the city’s minimum wage increase and, on May 5, 2017, low-wage workers within the city limits finally got their first raise, to $10 per hour.2

But on May 22, 2017, the Republican-dominated Missouri state legislature passed a preemption law that prohibits cities from establishing a minimum wage higher than the state’s.3 When Missouri’s law went into effect on August 28, 2017, St. Louis’s $10 minimum wage sunk back down to the state’s $7.70 per hour. By nullifying St. Louis’s ordinance, state lawmakers have potentially undone raises for the roughly 31,000 workers in St. Louis who had received a raise to $10 when the city’s ordinance took effect in May. With this action, the state lawmakers have also blocked additional scheduled raises for those same 31,000 workers plus another 7,000 workers who would have received a pay increase when the city’s minimum wage was scheduled to rise to $11 in January, 2018—that’s a total of 38,000 workers affected by the state’s decision to preempt St. Louis’s minimum wage law.4 Because of the state representatives’ actions, it’s now unclear if any of St. Louis’s low-income workers will receive the pay increase their local elected officials intended to give them.

State preemption of local government labor standards is on the rise

St. Louis’s struggle to give the low-income workers in its city a pay raise is not an isolated story. Since the 2010 midterm elections, when Republicans began to gain control over an increasing number of state legislatures, states have been using “preemption laws” to strike down local government efforts to improve the working conditions of their residents.5 Preemption laws allow state governments to supersede any city or county laws the state does not agree with. Now that the Republican Party controls 33 governorships and has majority representation in both chambers of most state legislatures, conservative state legislators have increasingly used preemption laws to strike down local government efforts to increase the quality of life for working people in their municipalities.6 In fact, many states are stripping away an entire package of basic labor and employment rights from workers in cities, including the ability for workers to earn paid sick days, work under fair shift-scheduling practices, and earn prevailing wages in safe, stable conditions on local government-funded construction projects.

This paper examines the rise of state preemption in five key areas of local innovation in labor and employment laws: 1) minimum wage; 2) paid leave; 3) fair work schedules; 4) prevailing wages; and 5) project labor agreements.

In 2016 and in the first half of 2017 alone, state legislatures significantly increased their use of preemption laws as a tool to strip local governments of their authority to enact ordinances improving workers’ lives, Figure A shows which states passed such preemption laws during 2016 and the first half of 2017.

Figure A

In the last year and a half alone, 15 states have passed 28 laws preempting local labor standards: States passing preemption laws, by type of labor standard affected, January 2016–July 2017

In the last year and a half alone, 15 states have passed 28 laws preempting local labor standards: States passing preemption laws, by type of labor standard affected, January 2016–July 2017

Notes: Gray boxes represent laws passed in 2016. Blue boxes represent laws passed in 2017. PLA stands for project labor agreement.

In 2017, Missouri passed an amendment to a minimum wage preemption law that was originally passed in 2015; the 2015 law did not apply to an already-passed St. Louis minimum wage ordinance, but the 2017 amendment made the preemption retroactive to cover the St. Louis ordinance. In addition to the enacted laws listed here, an additional five bills were passed by three state legislatures (Maryland, New Mexico, and Virginia), but were vetoed by the respective state governors and were not enacted into law.

Source: EPI analysis of preemption laws in all 50 states

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How state preemption of local government works

In law, the term “preemption” refers to situations in which a law passed by a higher government authority supersedes a law passed by a lower one. So, a law passed by a state legislature (or a provision of the state Constitution) supersedes an ordinance passed by a local government, such as a city council. In these situations, when a statewide law conflicts with a local ordinance or rule, the statewide law prevails.

In general, states either follow Dillon’s Rule—which grants only narrow governing authority to cities—or Home Rule—which grants broad governing authority to cities. Whether a state follows Dillon’s Rule or Home Rule is defined in the state constitution and/or by statute enacted by the legislature.7

Dillon’s Rule

Dillon’s Rule, named for Iowa Supreme Court Justice John F. Dillon more than 100 years ago, is a method of interpreting state constitutions so that the scope of local government power is very narrow. In states that follow Dillon’s Rule, a municipal corporation generally possesses only those powers that (1) the state has granted in express words; (2) that are necessarily or fairly implied in or incident to the powers expressly granted; and (3) that are essential and indispensable to the municipal governance. If there is any doubt concerning a whether a municipal corporation possesses a certain governing power, courts in Dillon’s Rule states will generally find in favor of the state.8

Home Rule

Home Rule provisions in state constitutions enhance the power of local governments to regulate their own affairs. Home Rule provisions give cities the power to draft their own charters and determine for themselves which responsibilities they wish to assume and which powers to exercise.9

In the labor and employment field, states have always used preemption laws to establish state dominance over local governments, but historically these laws were used to set minimum statewide standards that established a floor on workers’ rights that no local government could lower.10 Recent state preemption laws are different; conservative state legislatures are now using preemption to eliminate the authority of a lower level of government to regulate a certain issue.11 In practice, these laws are being used to strip authority from local governments who seek to increase protections for workers; the laws do so by prohibiting these local governments from increasing their labor/employment standards above the state floor.

State legislatures’ dramatic shift in the use of preemption to forbid local governments from enhancing protections for workers above the state level has resulted in actually lowering labor and employment standards in some cases. And in other cases, state legislatures have used preemption to prevent their local governments from improving workers’ wages or benefits in the first place.

State preemption in action

These are just a few examples of how state preemption has been used to lower labor standards or prevent improved labor standards from going into effect:

  • In 2011, the Wisconsin legislature passed a preemption law to repeal Milwaukee’s paid sick leave ordinance—even though Milwaukee voters had approved the ordinance in a 2008 ballot initiative with 69 percent support.12 Milwaukee’s paid sick leave standards dropped back down to the state law’s requirements, which only provides for unpaid sick days.13
  • In 2015, the Birmingham City Council passed an ordinance raising the city’s minimum wage to $8.50 effective July 2016 and to $10.10 effective July 2017. At the beginning of the 2016 session, the Alabama state legislature fast-tracked a minimum wage preemption law, which Governor Robert Bentley signed 16 days after the bill was first introduced, nullifying Birmingham’s ordinance and knocking the minimum wage back down to $7.25.14
  • In 2016, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed a minimum wage preemption law blocking Cleveland’s local minimum wage proposal from being placed on the ballot in 2017.15 Cleveland’s local ordinance proposed to raise the minimum wage citywide to $12 an hour in January 2018, and eventually to $15 in 2021. But the state’s preemption law ensures that Cleveland’s minimum wage will remain at $8.10 an hour, like the rest of the state.16

State preemption of local minimum wage laws

Pay for the vast majority of America’s workers has been stagnant for decades. America’s workers are working more productively, and have more education than ever, but they are barely keeping up with the rising cost of living—as an enormous and ever-increasing share of income growth goes to corporate profits, executive pay, and pay of earners at the highest end of the income distribution. Reversing this trend of ever-expanding income inequality requires policies that will strengthen wage growth for ordinary workers.

One of the simplest ways to accelerate wage growth for low- and moderate-wage workers is to raise minimum wages. Unfortunately, the federal minimum wage has not increased since 2009. Since then, the purchasing power of the federal minimum wage has fallen as inflation has slowly eroded its value. In 2017, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 was worth 12 percent less than when it was last raised in 2009, after adjusting for inflation, and is 27 percent below its peak value in 1968.17 Since national policymakers have failed to preserve this basic labor standard, a parent working full time does not earn enough at the minimum wage to live above the federal poverty line.18

As of July 2017, twenty-nine states (and Washington, D.C.) have instituted a minimum wage higher than the federal level, but 21 states remain at the federal floor of $7.25 an hour. Workers in those 21 states make up 39.2 percent of the nonfarm workforce.19 While waiting for state and federal governments to act, local governments (such as cities and counties) have increasingly taken action to raise minimum wages on their own. Before 2012, only five localities had enacted their own local minimum wage laws, but as of 2017, forty counties and cities have done so.20

Republican-dominated state governments have met this local action with fierce resistance and have increasingly passed preemption laws to ban local governments from raising their minimum wages.21 At least 25 states have passed laws taking away local authority to enact minimum wage ordinances, and state legislatures’ efforts to block local minimum wage increases is on the rise: more than half of these states have enacted their preemption laws since 2013 (see Figure B).22

Figure B

Minimum wage preemption is on the rise: States passing laws preempting local minimum wages, 1997–2017

Minimum wage preemption is on the rise: States passing laws preempting local minimum wages, 1997–2017

Note: In each column, blue boxes represent minimum wage preemption laws passed in the given year(s). Gray boxes represent minimum wage preemption laws in effect (passed in previous years).

Source: EPI analysis of preemption laws in all 50 states

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Minimum wage preemption case studies

In some cases, state legislatures have actually taken back minimum wage raises from workers who had already received them:

  • St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri: On August 28, 2017, Missouri’s retroactive minimum wage preemption law took effect, repealing any local ordinance that has raised the locality’s own minimum wage above the state’s. When the preemption law goes into effect, St. Louis’s minimum wage will drop from $10 down to $7.70. With this preemption law, state lawmakers have potentially undone raises for roughly 31,000 workers in St. Louis who received a raise when the city’s ordinance first took effect in May 2017,23 and likely stopped additional scheduled raises for those same 31,000 workers plus another 7,000 workers, for a total of 38,000 workers who would have gotten a pay increase when the city’s minimum wage was scheduled to rise to $11 an hour in January.

The majority of St. Louis’s affected workers are women (56 percent), and the overwhelming majority (over 90 percent) are adults, age 20 or older. The majority of these workers work full time, but roughly half are either in poverty or living with family incomes at less than 200 percent of the poverty line. More than one in four have children—which means that state lawmakers have taken away dollars that would have benefited nearly 23,000 children in the St. Louis area.24

In Kansas City, on August 8, 2017, sixty-nine percent of voters approved a ballot initiative that sought to raise the city’s minimum wage to $10 an hour effective August 24, 2017. The initiative would have implemented annual increases of $1.25 an hour, beginning Sept. 1, 2019, until the minimum reached $15 an hour in 2022.25 Kansas City’s low-wage workers will likely never get the pay raises the city’s residents voted for, because of the state’s preemption law that will nullify the voters’ choice on August 28.

  • Johnson, Linn, and Polk Counties, Iowa: On January 1, 2017, the low-wage workers in Johnson County got a pay raise, from the statewide minimum of $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, when a local minimum wage ordinance—passed in 2015—went into effect.26 Linn County workers got a raise to $8.25 on the same date; this minimum was scheduled to rise incrementally until it reached $10.25 on January 1, 2019.27 And in Polk County, a local ordinance provided for the minimum wage to increase to $8.75 per hour in April 2017, $9.75 in January 2018, and $10.75 in January 2019.28 But on March 30, 2017, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed a minimum wage preemption bill into law, prohibiting counties and cities from raising the minimum wage and rendering Johnson and Linn Counties’ January 2017 wage raises null and void.29 Through this preemption law, the Iowa state legislature dropped the wage floor back to $7.25, rolling back minimum wage requirements for the approximately 11,000 workers who were making $10.10 in Johnson County; blocking approximately 18,000 working people in Linn County from receiving pay raises to $10.25 by 2019; and preventing another 38,000 workers in Polk County from getting pay raises to $10.75 by 2019.30

State preemption of local paid leave laws

Paid leave (which includes sick and family medical leave) is a fundamental need for workers who become ill, have a family member who becomes ill, or have a new child.

Without paid sick days, workers lose money when they need to take time off during an illness, causing millions of workers to have little choice but to go to work while sick. The ability to earn paid sick leave is also contributing to the widening compensation gap in the United States. Higher-wage workers have much greater access to paid sick days than lower-wage workers do: 87 percent of private-sector workers in the highest-earning 10 percent have the ability to earn paid sick days, compared with only 27 percent of private-sector workers in the lowest-earning 10 percent.31 And for low-wage workers, having to take off a couple of days for an illness can lead to significant financial consequences, such as not having enough monthly income for groceries, gas, and auto insurance.32

Without paid family leave, millions of workers are also forced to choose between their paychecks and caring for a new child or an ill family member. At some point, nearly every worker will need to take time away from the job to care for a seriously ill family member, new child, or aging parent, but only 13 percent of workers in the U.S. have access to paid family leave through their employers.33

There is no federal law that provides workers with the right to earn paid leave—the federal Family Medical Leave Act simply allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.34 In the absence of federal action, seven states have passed paid sick days laws, and five states (and the District of Columbia) have passed paid family leave laws.35 Local governments, however, have taken up the cause of providing workers with this fundamental need: at least 30 cities and two counties have enacted their own paid leave ordinances in various forms.36

But state governments have begun blocking local government efforts to give workers the opportunity to earn paid time off—at least 20 states have passed paid leave preemption laws (see Figure C).

Figure C

Paid leave preemption is on the rise: States passing laws preempting local paid leave laws, January 2004–July 2017

Paid leave preemption is on the rise: States passing laws preempting local paid leave laws, January 2004–July 2017

Note: In each column, blue boxes represent paid leave preemption laws passed in the given year. Gray boxes represent fair scheduling preemption laws in effect (passed in previous years).

Source: EPI analysis of preemption laws in all 50 states

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State preemption of local fair scheduling laws

For hourly workers, not knowing when they will be scheduled to work each week makes scheduling the rest of the obligations in their lives challenging. An estimated 17 percent of the workforce face unfair and unpredictable scheduling practices.37 Not having predictable work hours undermines workers’ ability to budget for basic expenses, arrange for child care, continue their education, or maintain a second job to make ends meet.38

Currently, there is no federal law governing unpredictable scheduling practices. The Schedules That Work Act, reintroduced in 2017 by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), would address schedule predictability on a national level by, among other things, giving workers the right to request more stable schedules and advance notice of working hours, with protections against employer retaliation for doing so.39 While waiting for the federal government to act, four cities and two states have passed various forms of fair work schedules legislation.40

But in the last few years, as local governments have begun to innovate in the arena of fair scheduling, state governments have stripped local governments’ abilities to do so—at least nine states have passed work scheduling preemption laws since 2015 (see Figure D).

Figure D

Fair scheduling preemption is on the rise: States passing laws preempting local fair scheduling laws, January 2015–July 2017

Fair scheduling preemption is on the rise: States passing laws preempting local fair scheduling laws, January 2015–July 2017

Note: In each column, blue boxes represent fair scheduling preemption laws passed in the given year. Gray boxes represent fair scheduling preemption laws in effect (passed in previous years).

Source: EPI analysis of preemption laws in all 50 states

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State preemption of local prevailing wages and project labor agreements

Prevailing wages and project labor agreements help ensure workers are treated fairly and paid a living wage while performing jobs under government contracts.

Prevailing wage laws require contractors to bid and pay at least the average wage in their locality when working on public construction contracts. Without prevailing wage requirements, contractors can opt to reduce their workers’ wages to win bids on government contracts, rather than competing on the basis of efficiency and management skills, materials costs, or the productivity of their workforce. Even after taking into account cost-of-living differences, median wages are almost 7 percent lower in states where there is no prevailing wage law.41

Project labor agreements (PLAs) are a type of contract used in the construction industry to set the terms and conditions of employment on major projects such as roads, bridges, and power grids. PLAs can help keep projects on task—saving local governments time and money—by coordinating large numbers of individual contractors and their workforces. Both union and nonunion employers can enter into PLAs when bidding for city contracts, and PLAs can include provisions that seek to improve conditions on the worksite (e.g., health and safety rules) and provide benefits to the community, e.g., by including jobs and training opportunities for disadvantaged workers and support for small or minority-owned businesses.42

But in the last few years, state governments have stripped local governments’ abilities to award projects funded with their own local government funds to bidders who pay prevailing wages or participate in project labor agreements. At least 12 states have passed prevailing wage or PLA preemption laws. See Figure E.

Figure E

Prevailing wage/PLA preemption is on the rise: States passing laws preempting local prevailing wage/PLA ordinances, January 2001–July 2017

Prevailing wage/PLA preemption is on the rise: States passing laws preempting local prevailing wage/PLA ordinances, January 2001–July 2017

Note: PLA stands for project labor agreement. In each column, blue boxes represent prevailing wage/PLA preemption laws passed in the given year. Gray boxes represent prevailing wage/PLA preemption laws in effect (passed in previous years).

Source: EPI analysis of preemption laws in all 50 states

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Local governments should be allowed to improve labor and employment standards for their own residents

A common argument conservative state legislators use in favor of preemption is that they want to maintain “uniformity” of labor regulations and avoid a “patchwork” of different laws throughout the state. For example, a corporate-backed lobbying group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), drafted a model law called the “Living Wage Mandate Preemption Act” with sample legislative language that proclaims “private enterprises in this state must be allowed to function in a uniform environment with respect to mandated wage rates.”43 The 2017 Arkansas minimum wage and “employment benefits” preemption law prohibiting local governments from raising their labor standards was clearly influenced by ALEC’s model—it stated that “allowing localities to mandate employer-provided benefits would create a patchwork of local regulations” that would burden businesses.44

But ALEC easily discards its patchwork argument when seeking to push local labor standards down. When it comes to implementing local legislation to weaken labor rights, groups such as ALEC affirmatively advocate in favor of local labor ordinances.45 Such ordinances—misleadingly labeled “right to work”—don’t create opportunities or improve conditions for workers, but rather act to undermine unions’ collective bargaining power. Indeed, ALEC published its model “Local Right to Work Ordinance” in 2015, arguing for cities and counties to adopt local right-to-work ordinances that are different from the statewide standard.46

Moreover, businesses have long operated under rules that differ across cities and counties. Cities and counties throughout the nation have local rules that businesses have successfully operated under—including rules that regulate zoning, business licenses, construction permits, and other local concerns. Businesses have also successfully adapted to differing local labor and employment standards. For example, cities and counties have long used different living wage standards, requiring businesses that contract with them to pay various wage rates in different localities, including Baltimore’s living wage law passed in 1994 and Los Angeles’s living wage proposal passed in 1997.47 And businesses in multistate regions have also successfully adapted to varying minimum wages across close geographic areas—for example, the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area includes Virginia with a $7.25 minimum wage, Maryland at $8.75, and Washington, D.C. at $12.50. The corporate-backed lobbying groups’ complaints that businesses need uniform statewide labor standards in order to be successful is belied by the decades of experience proving otherwise.

It is also important to note that there are racial and economic class undertones in the debate over labor and employment preemption laws. For example, when Alabama State Representative David Faulkner introduced the “Alabama Uniform Minimum Wage and Right-To-Work Act,”48 the law was perceived to target Birmingham, the only city in Alabama to have raised its minimum wage above the federal floor (which the state follows).49 Alabama’s preemption law blocked approximately 65,000 workers in Birmingham from receiving a raise to $10.10 by 2017, as Birmingham’s local elected officials had intended.50 Faulkner resides in the town of Mountain Brook, which is 97 percent white and one of the wealthiest communities in the country, while Birmingham is 73 percent African American and 30 percent of its residents live in poverty.51 The NAACP filed a lawsuit charging Alabama with “racial animus” in using preemption to overturn the Birmingham wage raise, which had been passed by a majority black city council and would have benefited the 40,000 lowest-paid workers in the city—most of whom are black.52 A federal judge in Birmingham dismissed the suit in February 2017.53 The case is now on appeal to the 11th Circuit.

In Missouri, State Representative Jason Chipman (R) sponsored the minimum wage preemption law that nullified St. Louis’s minimum wage increase. Chipman represents a district southwest of St. Louis that is more than 90 percent white and where the federal poverty rate is approximately 19 percent.54 It is a wealthier part of the state overall than the City of St. Louis, which has a poverty rate of 25.5 percent and where nearly half the population is African American.55 Chipman said, “These are supposed to be entry-level jobs,” adding, “We understand there are people who rely on these jobs who are not entry-level-type people, but you can’t legislate by the exception.”56 Presumably when Chipman refers to “entry-level-type people,” he means workers who don’t “rely on these jobs” to pay the rent, buy groceries, and support families. But Representative Chipman is wrong about the 38,000 St. Louis minimum wage workers whose pay the city wanted to increase. They are not “entry-level-type people.” The overwhelming majority (over 90 percent) are adults, age 20 or older. The majority of these workers work full time, and more than one in four of the minimum wage workers affected have children.57

Strategies for fighting back: How local governments can improve labor and employment standards in the face of state resistance

While the ultimate goal is to repeal state laws that block local government efforts to raise labor standards, there are steps local governments can take to improve labor and employment standards in their localities even where the state has largely blocked their efforts.

While many cities in states with preemption laws are prohibited from raising the minimum wage for private-sector workers, they can still raise the minimum wage for the city’s own employees in most cases. The Indianapolis City Council (which also represents Marion County) has discussed the idea of raising the wages for city-county workers, both to ensure city-county workers are paid a living wage and in the hope that private-sector employers will follow suit.58

Another step local governments can take to raise local labor standards is through their local contracting authorities, similar to how the Obama administration raised wages to $10.20 per hour for workers on certain federally contracted projects.59 In 2014, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel implemented an executive order requiring that all contractors and subcontractors who work with the city pay their workers a minimum of $13 an hour.60 And in July 2017 San Diego’s City Council passed an ordinance requiring city contractors and consultants to pay their employees equally, regardless of gender or ethnicity.61

Conclusion

What this whole preemption debate boils down to is this: America’s workers need better jobs and better opportunities. Local governments are taking action to help the workers in their cities by raising labor standards to include higher wages and the ability to earn paid leave to recover from illness or care for family members. But conservative state legislatures are increasingly taking those advances away from the working people who need them most.

If state legislators desire uniform labor and employment standards across their states, rather than undoing the higher standards that cities and counties are implementing for themselves, they should simply raise the statewide standards to match. America’s working people deserve better, and these reforms are long overdue.

Appendix

The following tables summarize state preemption activity by state and year. Table A1 shows which states have passed preemption laws recently—during 2016 and the first half of 2017. Table A2 provides a comprehensive history of state preemption activity since 1997. Most of this activity occurred between 2011 and 2017.

Table A1

Eighteen state legislatures tried to block local governments from boosting local labor standards in 2016 and 2017—most succeeded: State preemption laws, by type of local ordinance preempted and year preemption bill was passed by the legislature, January 2016–July 2017

State Minimum wage preemption Paid leave preemption Fair work scheduling preemption Prevailing wage and project labor agreements preemption
Alabama 2016 2016 2016
Arkansas 2017 2017 2017
Florida 2017
Georgia 2017
Idaho 2016
Indiana 2016
Iowa 2017 2017 2017 2017
Kansas 2016
Kentucky 2017* 2017 2017
Maryland 2017 (vetoed)
Missouri 2017** 2017
New Mexico 2017 (vetoed)
North Carolina 2016 2016
Ohio 2016 2016 2016
South Carolina 2017
Tennessee 2017
Virginia 2016 (vetoed) 2016 (vetoed) 2017 (vetoed)
Wisconsin 2017

* The Kentucky Supreme Court struck down Louisville and Lexington’s minimum wage ordinances in October 2016. The state legislature passed a minimum wage preemption law on January 9, 2017.

** In 2017, Missouri passed an amendment to a minimum wage preemption law that was originally passed in 2015; the 2015 law did not apply to an already-passed St. Louis minimum wage ordinance, but the 2017 amendment made the preemption retroactive to cover the St. Louis ordinance.

Notes: See extended notes for details about vetoed bills.

The governor of Maryland vetoed the paid leave preemption bill passed by the Maryland state legislature in 2017. The bill was not enacted into law. New Mexico’s governor vetoed the fair work scheduling preemption bill passed by the New Mexico state legislature in 2017. The bill was not enacted into law. The governor of Virginia vetoed all three preemption bills passed by the Virginia state legislature. However, because Virginia is a “Dillon’s Rule” state—which grants narrow governing authority to local governments—local minimum wage, paid leave, and prevailing wage/project labor agreements ordinances are likely automatically preempted under Virginia law.

Source: EPI analysis of preemption laws in all 50 states

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Table A2

Since 1997, thirty state legislatures have passed bills preempting local labor standards—most have become law: State preemption laws and bills, by type of local ordinance and year preemption bill was passed by the legislature, January 1997–July 2017

State Minimum wage preemption Paid leave preemption Fair work scheduling preemption Prevailing wage and project labor agreements preemption
Alabama 2016 2014 2016 2016
Arizona 2013
Arkansas 2017 2017 2017
Colorado 1999
Florida 2003 2013 2017
Georgia 2004 2004 2017
Idaho 2016
Indiana 2011 2013 2016 2015
Iowa 2017 2017 2017 2017
Kansas 2013 2013 2016 2013
Kentucky 2017* 2017 2017
Louisiana 1997 2012
Maryland 2017 (vetoed)
Michigan 2015 2015 2015 2015
Mississippi 2013 2013 2014
Missouri 2015/2017** 2015 2017
New Hampshire Dillon’s Rule*** Dillon’s Rule***
New Mexico 2017 (vetoed)
North Carolina 2016 2016
Ohio 2016 2016 2016
Oklahoma 2014 2014
Oregon 2001 2015
Pennsylvania 2006
Rhode Island 2014
South Carolina 2002 2017
Tennessee 2013 2013 2017 2013
Texas 2003
Utah 2001 2001
Virginia 2016 (vetoed but Dillon’s Rule***) 2016 (vetoed but Dillon’s Rule***) 2017 (vetoed but Dillon’s Rule***)
Wisconsin 2005 2011 2017

* The Kentucky Supreme Court struck down Louisville and Lexington’s minimum wage ordinances in October 2016. The state legislature passed a minimum wage preemption law on January 9, 2017.

** Missouri originally passed a minimum wage preemption law in 2015 but the law did not apply to an already-passed St. Louis minimum wage ordinance; the Missouri state legislature subsequently amended the law in 2017, making the preemption retroactive to cover the St. Louis ordinance.

*** Dillon’s Rule states (see explanation in report and in extended notes).

Notes: See extended notes for details about vetoed bills and Dillon’s Rule states.

The governor of Maryland vetoed the paid leave preemption bill passed by the Maryland state legislature in 2017. The law did not go into effect. New Mexico’s governor vetoed the fair work scheduling preemption bill passed by the New Mexico state legislature in 2017. The law did not go into effect. The governor of Virginia vetoed all three preemption bills passed by the Virginia state legislature. However, because Virginia is a “Dillon’s Rule” state—which grants narrow governing authority to local governments—local minimum wage, paid leave, and prevailing wage/project labor agreements ordinances are likely automatically preempted under Virginia law.

Source: EPI analysis of preemption laws in all 50 states

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Endnotes

1. City of St. Louis Ordinance No. 70078 (May 29, 2015).

2. Cooperative Home Care, Inc., et al., v. City of St. Louis, Missouri, No. SC95401 (Slip. Op. M.O. Feb. 28, 2017).

3. Missouri House Bill Nos. 1194 & 1193 (99th General Assembly, 2017).

4. David Cooper, “State Lawmakers in Missouri Just Undercut Wages for 38,000 Workers in St. Louis,” Working Economics (Economic Policy Institute blog), July 14, 2017; see also Marni von Wilpert, “Missouri’s New Preemption Law Cheats 38,000 Workers out of a Raise,” Working Economics (Economic Policy Institute blog), July 14, 2017.

5. See, for example, Yuki Noguchi, “As Cities Raise Minimum Wages, Many States Are Rolling Them Back,” All Things Considered (NPR), July 18, 2017; Emily Badger, “Blue Cities Want to Make Their Own Rules. Red States Won’t Let Them,” New York Times, July 6, 2017; Dave Jamieson, “Republican Lawmakers Take a Raise Away from St. Louis Workers,” Huffington Post, July 9, 2017.

6. Emily Warren, When States Interfere with City-Level Innovation: Preemption and Implications for Cities, 21st Century Cities Initiative, Johns Hopkins University, December 2016.

7. National League of Cities, Cities 101—Delegation of Power [fact sheet], December 13, 2016.

8. § 4:11.Delegation of powers by legislature—Municipal powers under Dillon’s Rule, 2 McQuillin Mun. Corp. § 4:11 (3d ed.); see also National League of Cities, City Rights in an Era of Preemption: A State-by-State Analysis, February 2017.

9. Rick Su, “Have Cities Abandoned Home Rule?,” Fordham Urban Law Journal vol. 44 (April 2017), 181, 191; § 1:44.Public local corporations—Cities, towns and villages—Home rule—Definition, 1 McQuillin Mun. Corp. § 1:44 (3d ed.).

10. Lori Riverstone-Newell, “The Rise of State Preemption Laws in Response to Local Policy Innovation,” Publis: The Journal of Federalism vol. 47, no. 3 (July 2017), 403–4.

11. National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity, “Preemption by Any Other Name,” [fact sheet], developed in partnership with the Public Health Law Center at William Mitchell College of Law, 2010.

12. Claire Zillman, “The Paid Sick Leave Battle Continues, State by State,” Fortune, February 11, 2015.

13. State of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, “Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act” [informational webpage].

14. Mike Carson, “Gov. Robert Bentley Signs Bill to Block City Minimum Wages, Voiding Birmingham Ordinance,” Al.com, February 25, 2016. Alabama does not have a state-level minimum wage, so employers follow the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, which was last raised in 2009.

15. Jeremy Pelzer, “Gov. John Kasich Signs Bill Blocking Cleveland’s $15 Minimum Wage Proposal,” Cleveland.com, December 19, 2016.

16. Leila Atassi, “Special Election for Phased-in $15 Minimum Wage Proposal Set for May 2 in Cleveland,” Cleveland.com, September 12, 2016.

17. David Cooper, Another Year of Congressional Inaction Has Further Eroded the Federal Minimum Wage, Economic Policy Institute, July 24, 2017.

18. David Cooper, Another Year of Congressional Inaction Has Further Eroded the Federal Minimum Wage, Economic Policy Institute, July 24, 2017.

19. Janelle Jones and David Cooper, State Minimum Wage Increases Helped 4.3 Million Workers, but Federal Inaction Has Left Many More Behind, Economic Policy Institute, January 9, 2017.

20. U.C. Berkeley Labor Center, Inventory of US City and County Minimum Wage Ordinances.

21. Matthew Sheffield, “Republicans in Several States Are Lowering the Minimum Wage—Yes, You Read That Right,” Salon, July 9, 2017; Emily Badger, “Blue Cities Want to Make Their Own Rules. Red States Won’t Let Them,” New York Times, July 6, 2017.

22. EPI analysis of preemption laws in all 50 U.S. states; see also National Employment Law Project, “Fighting Preemption: The Movement for Higher Wages Must Oppose State Efforts to Block Local Minimum Wage Laws,” July 2017; Richard Schragger, State Preemption Of Local Laws: Preliminary Review Of Substantive Areas, Snapshot as of March 2017, prepared for the Legal Effort to Address Preemption (LEAP) Project, May 2017.

23. While St. Louis passed the local minimum wage ordinance in 2015, low-wage workers within the city limits did not get their first raise (to $10 per hour) until May 5, 2017, because a group of employers sued the city and had the local ordinance tied up in litigation for nearly two years. The Missouri Supreme Court found in favor of the City. Cooperative Home Care, Inc., et al., v. City of St. Louis, Missouri, No. SC95401 (Slip. Op. M.O. Feb. 28, 2017).

24. David Cooper, “State Lawmakers in Missouri Just Undercut Wages for 38,000 Workers in St. Louis,” Working Economics (Economic Policy Institute blog), July 14, 2017.

25. Diane Stafford, “Higher Minimum Wage Gets KC Voters’ Support; Attention Turns to Statewide Campaign,” Kansas City Star, August 8, 2017.

26. Stephen Gruber-Miller, “County Supervisors Give Final Approval to Wage Increase,” Des Moines Register, September 10, 2015.

27. Linn County Minimum Wage Ordinance, April 9, 2016.

28. Kevin Hardy, “How Polk County’s New Minimum Wage Affects You,” Des Moines Register, October 12, 2016.

29. Minimum Wage” [informational webpage], Linn County, Iowa, website.

30. EPI analysis of American Community Survey microdata, 2015.

31. Elise Gould and Jessica Schieder, Work Sick or Lose Pay? The High Cost of Being Sick When You Don’t Get Paid Sick Days, Economic Policy Institute, June 28, 2017.

32. Elise Gould and Jessica Schieder, Work Sick or Lose Pay? The High Cost of Being Sick When You Don’t Get Paid Sick Days, Economic Policy Institute, June 28, 2017.

33. National Partnership for Working Families, Paid Family and Medical Leave: An Overview [fact sheet], March 2015.

34. United States Department of Labor, “Family Medical Leave Act,” dol.gov (accessed August 23, 2017).

35. Arizona, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington have enacted paid sick days laws; see National Partnership for Working Families, Current Paid Sick Days Laws, November 9, 2016. In addition to the District of Columbia, California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington have enacted family leave laws; see National Partnership for Working Families, State Paid Family Leave Insurance Laws, July 2017.

36. National Partnership for Working Families, Current Paid Sick Days Laws, November 9, 2016.

37. Lonnie Golden, Irregular Work Scheduling and Its Consequences, Economic Policy Institute, April 9, 2015.

38. Heather Boushey and Bridget Ansel, Working by the Hour: The Economic Consequences of Unpredictable Scheduling Practices, Washington Center for Equitable Growth, September 6, 2016.

39. Schedules That Work Act, S. 1386 / H.R. 2942, 115th Congress (2017).

40. The cities of Emeryville, San Francisco, and San Jose, California; Seattle, Washington; and the states of New Hampshire and Oregon, have enacted fair scheduling legislation; see National Women’s Law Center, Summary of Fair Scheduling Legislation, January 2017. In 2016, New Hampshire enacted a law protecting workers’ rights to request a flexible work schedule; see An Act Relative to Flexible Working Arrangements in Employment, SB416 Gen. Court, Reg. Sess. (NH 2016) (passed June 10, 2016). In 2017, Oregon enacted its Fair Work Week statute; see An Act Relating to Employee Work Schedules, SB 828 Reg. Sess. (OR 2017) (effective date, August 8, 2017).

41. Ross Eisenbrey and Teresa Kroeger, Repealing Prevailing Wage Laws Hurts Construction Workers, Working Economics (Economic Policy Institute blog), March 24, 2017.

42. Matthew M. Bodah and Dale Belman, Building Better: A Look at Best Practices for the Design of Project Labor Agreements, Economic Policy Institute, August 12, 2010.

43. American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Living Wage Mandate Preemption Act, January 28, 2013.

44. An Act to Prohibit Political Subdivisions of the State from Requiring More Than Federal or State Requirements from Employers, SB 688, Gen. Assemb. Reg. Sess. (AR 2017) (passed March 28, 2017).

45. Shaila Dewan, “Foes of Unions Try Their Luck in County Laws,” New York Times, December 18, 2014.

46. American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Local Right to Work Ordinance, January 9, 2015.

47. Jared Bernstein, “The Living Wage Movement: Pointing the Way Toward the High Road,” EPI Viewpoints, March 4, 2002.

48. HB174, Reg. Sess. (AL 2016) (passed on February 25, 2016).

49. See Karim Lakhani, “Birmingham & The Impact of Race on State Preemption LawsOnLabor, April 3, 2017.

50. EPI analysis of American Community Survey microdata, 2015.

51. Dave Jamieson, “How Republicans Are Blocking Local Minimum Wage Hikes,” Huffington Post, February 25, 2016; Joe B. Crowe, “Mountain Brook One of Wealthiest Communities in U.S.,” Al.com, December 30, 2008.

52. Zachary Roth, “Suit Claims Racial Discrimination by Alabama on Minimum Wage,” MSNBC.com, April 28, 2016.

53. Associated Press, “Federal Judge Dismisses Birmingham Minimum Wage Lawsuit,” WIAT.com, February 2, 2017.

54. Marni von Wilpert, “Missouri’s New Preemption Law Cheats 38,000 Workers out of a Raise,” Working Economics (Economic Policy Institute blog), July 14, 2017; U.S. Census Bureau, “QuickFacts” statistics for St. Louis city, Missouri (County); Phelps County, Missouri; Crawford County, Missouri; UNITED STATES [data table], accessed August 25, 2017 at census.gov.

55. Marni von Wilpert, “Missouri’s New Preemption Law Cheats 38,000 Workers out of a Raise,” Working Economics (Economic Policy Institute blog), July 14, 2017; U.S. Census Bureau, “QuickFacts” statistics for St. Louis city, Missouri (County); Phelps County, Missouri; Crawford County, Missouri; UNITED STATES [data table], accessed August 25, 2017 at census.gov.

56. Dave Jamieson, “Republican Lawmakers Take a Raise Away from St. Louis Workers,” Huffington Post, July 9, 2017.

57. David Cooper, “State Lawmakers in Missouri Just Undercut Wages for 38,000 Workers in St. LouisWorking Economics (Economic Policy Institute blog), July 14, 2017.

58. Howard Monroe, “Indy Council Looking to Raise Minimum Wage for City Workers,” wishtv.com, May 8, 2017.

59. See Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, “Final Rule: Executive Order 13658, Establishing a Minimum Wage for Contractors,” 79 Fed. Reg. 60634 (October 7, 2014).

60. Bill Ruthhart, “Emanuel Takes Page from Obama’s Book on Minimum Wage,” Chicago Tribune, September 3, 2014.

61. David Garrick, “San Diego Approves Equal Pay Law to Address Persistent Gender Gap,” San Diego Union Tribune, July 31, 2017.


See related work on Minimum wage | Paid sick leave | Unions and Labor Standards | Irregular work scheduling | Perkins Project

See more work by Marni von Wilpert