Fast food workers in Birmingham, Ala., are suing their state government over a law that negates a recent minimum wage increase, reports Reuters. The workers, along with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Greater Birmingham Ministries, allege the state law is racially discriminatory.
Last August, the Birmingham City Council passed an ordinance to raise the city's minimum wage from the federal mandate of $7.25 an hour to $8.50 in July 2016 and $10.10 one year later. But in February, Governor Robert Bentley signed into law a bill that prohibits Alabama municipalities from setting their own minimum wages. The state does not have a legal wage floor, so Alabama businesses must abide by the federal minimum.
In support of the bill, Alabama Sen. Jabo Waggoner, a Republican from the Birmingham suburb of Vestavia Hills, said Birmingham's ordinance would cause employment to "go downhill." But the lawsuit that was announced Thursday, claims the new state law is tainted with "racial animus." The city of Birmingham's population is 73 percent black, according to the latest census data. Vestavia Hills is estimated to be 90 percent white.
On a conference call announcing the federal civil rights lawsuit, 23-year-old Marnika Lewis, an employee at a Birmingham Moe's Southwest Grill location and one of the plaintiffs, alleged the state stole her pay raise. "I can't afford to feed my son or heat my home on the $270 I'm paid each week, so I have to rely on public assistance just to scrape by," Lewis said, according to the Guardian. "If the legislature and governor hadn't illegally stolen my raise, I would have had money to pay for my son's child care."
The debate over minimum wage has become one of the most contentious issues for American workers, business owners, and policy makers. Last month, California lawmakers approved a plan to increase the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour, and New York lawmakers followed suit earlier this month. In the 2016 presidential race, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have announced support for increasing the national minimum wage to that level.