Preemption

“Preemption” refers to situations in which a law passed by a higher government authority supersedes a law passed by a lower one. For example, a law passed by a state legislature (or a provision of the state Constitution) supersedes an ordinance passed by a local government, such as a city council. State legislatures are increasingly using preemption laws to block local labor and employment ordinances from taking effect or to dismantle existing ordinances. 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.

Publications

Clearing the Air Around the Texas Minimum Wage Act

Recognizing that the federal minimum wage falls short of what families need to make ends meet, other states and cities across the country have raised their minimum wages above the federal level of $7.25 an hour. No Texas cities have done this because Texas state law currently stops cities and counties from making most local decisions about the minimum wage. Local governments are only able to raise minimum wages for their own government employees and contract workers.  What cities can do, however, is to insure that other benefits like paid sick time are available to all workers in that city which is what the City of Austin has done.

But how did we get here on the dollar minimum wage?

City governments are raising standards for working people—and state legislators are lowering them back down

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.