St. Louis pizzeria boosts pay amid wage debate

Thursday, March 20, 2014 | 5:29 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis restaurant owner isn't waiting for Congress or the Missouri legislature to raise the minimum wage to boost his own workers' pay.

Pi Pizzeria owner, Chris Sommers, said Wednesday he will pay all of his employees $10.10 an hour starting April 1. That's an increase of more than one-third above the state's minimum wage of $7.50 an hour.

"This puts in place the floor which will be the difference between a tank of gas or getting a car repaired — and that ability to get to work or not be terminated for not showing to work," Sommers told KWMU-FM. "It'll help in the moments where people have an unexpected expense and they can take care of it now. And it'll have a few people get to the point where they're not just scraping by."

Sommers owns five Pi locations in the St. Louis area and a sixth in Washington, D.C., as well as a Mexican restaurant. His efforts caught the attention of President Barack Obama, who singled out Pi in a Wednesday interview with KSDK-TV.

The president said that if Pi could sell pizza paying above minimum wage, he suspected that there are not a lot of small businesses that can't do the same.

"When you've got corporate profits high, the stock market doing well, it's time to give America a raise," the president said.

Sommers said his decision is a direct response to groups such as the National Restaurant Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which oppose raising the minimum wage, saying it would lead to job losses.

"Other necessary reforms— such as increased access to education and job training opportunities —are far more effective, targeted ways to help people in poverty and will have a more meaningful impact on an individual's earning potential," Scott DeFife, of the restaurant trade group, said. "Our industry provides real pathways to the middle class and beyond, and dramatic increases in the minimum wage will only hinder our ability to provide stepping stones for those that need it most."

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay attended Sommers' news conference announcing the wage boost. The city of St. Louis now pays its employees at least $10.10 an hour.

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