The Case Against the Confirmation of John Ashcroft As Attorney General of the United States: Part II

Minimum Wage

As of 1990, the overwhelming majority of states had minimum wage statutes, but Missouri did not. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 20, 1990. Despite this, and broad support in the legislature for a state minimum wage, Ashcroft twice took the extreme position of vetoing bills to establish such a wage.

On July 14, 1989, Ashcroft vetoed a bill that would have established a state minimum wage in Missouri. In vetoing the bill, Ashcroft contended that it contained drafting errors, would have applied to babysitters, and would have required group foster care homes to pay time and a half for house parents. The response from local labor leaders was swift and vehement. Don Owens, secretary-treasurer of the Missouri State Labor Council AFL-CIO called Ashcroft "hypocritical." Springfield News-Leader, July 15, 1989. Meanwhile, business lobbyists praised Ashcroft’s move. Columbia Daily Tribune, July 15, 1989.

Undeterred, the Missouri legislature sent Ashcroft a new minimum wage bill in February 1990. In the new bill, sponsors worked to address all of the concerns expressed in the governor’s 1989 veto message, and even restricted the bill further on their own initiative. Daily Capital News, Feb. 16, 1990. In an editorial, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch urged Ashcroft to sign the new bill even while expressing concern that it was "weak." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 20, 1990. On March 2, 1990, Ashcroft vetoed the new minimum wage bill, claiming that it might have led to a lawsuit in which a judge might have found that prison inmates were state employees and thus might have required the state to pay the minimum wage to prisoners. He also raised concerns that the bill would have required summer camps to pay the minimum wage and overtime wages. (Veto Letter on HB1048, 3/2/90). This time the response from the bill’s sponsors and supporters was even more emphatic. Duke McVey, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, called the governor’s reasoning "a subterfuge" and accused Ashcroft of "fronting for the people with the $800 suits." State senator Edwin Dirck, a supporter of the bill, noted that Missouri was one of only six states without a law establishing a state minimum wage. He went on to say, "I’m tired of fooling around. ... It’s time to give the people a chance to vote on this issue." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 3, 1990.

Less than two weeks after Ashcroft vetoed the state minimum wage bill, the Missouri House tentatively approved a bill to place the minimum wage issue—explicitly exempting prisoners from coverage—directly before the Missouri voters. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 16, 1990. Then, on April 18, 1990, the Senate passed a new version of the bill by a unanimous vote. After that overwhelming vote, Ashcroft finally signaled that he would be willing to sign the bill, and he did so.

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