On August 28, 2017, low-wage workers in St. Louis, Missouri, became the latest victims of state preemption laws. “Preemption” in this context refers to a situation in which a state law is enacted to block a local ordinance from taking effect—or dismantle an existing ordinance. In this case, St. Louis had raised its minimum wage above the state minimum—but was then forced to lower it back down when the Missouri state legislature preempted the local ordinance.
Ironically, state preemption of labor standards has historically been used for good: to ensure that minimum labor standards are applied statewide. It is only in recent years that it has been so frequently used to take earnings and protections away from workers.
This report looks at the rising use of preemption by state legislatures to undercut local labor standards. It provides an overview of five key areas of labor and employment policy affected by preemption—including minimum wage, paid leave, fair work scheduling, prevailing wage, and project labor agreements—and details the extent and impact of such preemption practices throughout the United States. Finally, it presents ways local governments can push back against state preemption in their efforts to raise the living standards of their residents.