Birmingham, Ala., is home to a rising food scene, and it soon may be the first Southern city to install a minimum wage hike. The Birmingham City Council passed an ordinance, 8-0 with one abstention, to raise the city's minimum wage on Tuesday, reports al.com, and local officials believe it would be the first of its kind to take effect in the Southeastern United States. The city's legal department is now reviewing the ordinance.
With no statewide minimum wage law in Alabama, Birmingham's wage floor is at the federally mandated level of $7.25 per hour. Should the ordinance pass muster with the legal department, the city's minimum wage will rise to $8.50 per hour in July 2016 and $10.10 one year later.
Minimum wage laws have been the topic du jour in the restaurant industry across the country. Many workers have protested for higher pay, but some say the hikes will lead to job losses. In Birmingham, iconic chef and restaurateur Frank Stitt (Highlands Bar & Grill, Bottega, Chez Fon Fon) says the ordinance is needed and won't have any impact on his restaurants.
"No, it certainly won't affect us at all," Stitt said in a phone conversation with Eater. "We already start people at $10 an hour, and that's been kind of a minimum for us for a long time. I think that the minimum wage has been too low. It needed to go up. People need to be able to live on a minimum wage and I think this has been overdue in coming."
Stitt believes $10.10 per hour is an appropriate goal, as opposed to the $15 level some cities have set.
"I think that's kind of a foolish question because you can't go from $7 to $15, so obviously it's got to be a gradual process. I'm sure in certain areas of the country that that's appropriate — like I say, you have to go gradually up. So from seven to 10 is a good start, and then as time goes by it will naturally need to go up."
Birmingham City Council president Johnathan Austin told al.com, "We're just trying to do what we think is best for our citizens and our workers." However, some locals believe the ordinance is an attempt to distract the public from a huge pay raise the council recently approved for itself. That ordinance, which passed 8-1, will raise each part-time councilor's pay from $15,000 to $50,000 per year, effective in 2017.