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At Rally, Louisville Labor Rights Activists Question Mayor Fischer's Dedication to Minimum Wage Hike

Louisville labor rights activists on Monday questioned Mayor Greg Fischer’s dedication to increasing the minimum wage.The activists spoke to WFPL after a downtown Louisville rally organized by Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth, who called on Congress to have an immediate vote on increasing the federal minimum wage. A Metro government proposal to raise the minimum wage is under legal examination, and Fischer has repeatedly said that raising workers pay makes business sense. But labor rights activists are critical of his dedication to the issue. In June,  Fischer told NPR’s Here & Now the minimum wage hasn't been a "big topic of conversation" in the city. Community activist and business owner Pam Newman spoke in favor of an increase at Monday’s rally. She said Louisville grassroots activists notice Fischer's absence from the event and movement as a whole. "We have a large population of people who are working at minimum wage or close to it who are not making ends meet in this city, and they are voters," said Newman. "It concerns me that our (mayor’s office) is not as involved in that as it could be. "Mayor Fischer must be putting a blind eye to it or ignoring it, because the conversation is loud." Several Democratic lawmakers in the state legislature and Metro Council attended the Yarmuth rally in support of the wage hike. Fischer spokesman Chris Poynter declined to address whether the mayor is involved in discussions about the legality of a local minimum wage ordinance. Poynter referred to Yarmuth's office questions about whether the mayor was aware of or invited to Monday's rally. A Yarmuth spokesman said rally organizers invited public officials who either sponsored or co-sponsored minimum wage legislation. "I'll consider Mayor Fischer an ally to the 'Raise the Wage' campaign when he actually helps us get some of the votes on Metro Council," said Bonifacio Aleman, director of Kentucky Jobs With Justice. "I feel the mayor is ignoring the 61,000 people who would get a raise by increasing the wage to $10.10. Because he doesn’t have a serious challenger in the election, he doesn’t have a reason to take a strong stance on issue that are important to working people, and sadly we’re seeing the effects of that." At Monday's rally, Yarmuth, a co-sponsor of the federal proposal, said the current wage rate is not enough for struggling Kentucky families. "We know what it cost to live in this country, and $7.25 is totally inadequate," Yarmuth said. "And we know the economy grows when we raise the minimum wage. There’s evidence and history to support that." Yarmuth's office points to  an Oxfam America analysis showing 61,000 Louisville workers would benefit from a $10.10 minimum wage. The federal Fair Minimum Wage Act would increase worker’s pay from $7.25 to $10.10 over three years. Republicans stalled the measure in April, but Democrats have continued to push for the measure as part of their 100-day action going into the fall election. Opponents of the legislation, such as Kentucky Republican senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell,  argue that a mandated wage hike would hurt businesses and certain job-seekers. Many of the speakers at the rally slammed McConnell and Paul’s opposition, but others who attended told WFPL afterwards they were equally disappointed in Louisville’s Democratic mayor for not doing more. "Workers are loud about this issue; our city council is loud about this issue," said Newman. "So if he’s not hearing anything he’s not making an effort to listen." Yarmuth said increasing worker's pay is a big issue in Louisville and that he considers Fischer to be an ally. "I think the mayor supports raising the minimum wage," said Yarmuth. "He may not think it’s as high a priority as I do, but I know he supports that."