Q&A: A look at Cleveland’s $15 an hour minimum wage battle

CLEVELAND (AP) — Legislation that lawmakers were required to consider by a petition drive to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in the city was voted down by Cleveland City Council on Wednesday.

Officials from a union-backed group called Raise Up Cleveland said after the vote that it would continue the fight and hoped to get the issue on the ballot for voters to decide. The movement to raise the minimum wage appears to be gaining traction nationwide with the national Democratic Party making “Fight for $15” part of its 2016 platform.

A look at the issue as it plays out in Cleveland:



Raise Up Cleveland is backed by the Services Employee International Union, which helped organize and finance the petition drive that created the legislation rejected by City Council. The minimum wage in Ohio and Cleveland, one of the nation’s poorest cities, is $8.10 an hour. Raise Up Cleveland got a big boost at a hearing on Wednesday before City Council’s vote when AFL-CIO executive secretary Harriet Applegate, arguably northeast Ohio’s most powerful union leader, made an impassioned plea to council to put the interests of low-wage workers ahead of businesses.



Businesses, obviously, oppose the issue along with most of Cleveland’s elected officials, all of whom are Democrats. Mayor Frank Jackson and City Council President Kevin Kelley have said raising the minimum wage in Cleveland alone would have a devastating effect on the city’s fragile economic recovery. They argue it would force businesses to cut jobs or perhaps close and would discourage businesses from relocating to Cleveland.



A Raise Up Cleveland spokesman says the group will talk with residents to consider its options. Its likely course of action is to try to have Cleveland voters to decide the issue. The group has already asked the Ohio Supreme Court to intervene after its efforts to force council to put the issue on the Nov. 8 ballot appear to have failed when its petitions with additional signatures required by City Charter were rejected because they were submitted prior to council’s vote on Wednesday. City Council isn’t scheduled to meet again until Sept. 12, three days after the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections deadline for submitting ballot language for the Nov. 8 election.



It might be Raise Up Cleveland’s best chance to get the issue before voters in the coming months. The City Charter specifies that with an additional 5,000 valid signatures, City Council must provide for a special election.



The likelihood is a legal fight decided by the Ohio Supreme Court, with Raise Up Cleveland and its supporters on one side and the city of Cleveland and state of Ohio on the other. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has already issued an opinion that municipalities lack the authority to set minimum wage different from what’s prescribed in state law. The opinion signed by Attorney General Mike DeWine, however, has no force of law.