Home > States > Alabama > Birmingham scores a win against state preemption

A federal appeals court handed workers in Birmingham, Alabama, a significant win this week as the city is in a battle against state lawmakers over whether it has the right to raise its minimum wage.

The Birmingham workers and the Alabama legislature have been fighting in court since the city voted to increase its minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, from $7.25, in February 2016. That hike never took effect. The state legislature swiftly passed a law barring municipalities like Birmingham from setting their own minimum wage.

The case — filed by a group of fast-food workers, the NAACP and other worker groups — argued that the state’s majority white legislature discriminated against the majority black city. On Wednesday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, reversing a judge’s earlier decision to dismiss the workers’ suit.

In its decision, a three-judge panel ruled the state’s preemption law violated 14th Amendment’s equal protection rights. It called the state’s actions “rushed, reactionary, and racially polarized.”

This is just the latest development in a kind of cat-and-mouse game has been raging between cities and states for the last few years. Cities or counties with higher costs of living have increasingly adopted minimum wage increases well above the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. Then state legislatures fight back by setting statewide caps. This is known as state preemption. According to the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group, 25 states have passed preemption laws.

Laura Huizar, a staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project, says state preemption is very controversial because it affects a whole range of policies — including gun regulations, anti-discrimination and paid-leave laws, and bans on plastic bags. “More and more local leaders and local communities are realizing that they have to stand up and defend their local rights, or all of these state preemption bills are going to erode their ability to practice and exercise local democracy,” Huizar says.


Read the entire post by Yuki Noguchi on NPR’s website: