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Minimum wage battle in New Orleans

The living-wage movement got a boost last week when New Orleans voters, in a city-wide referendum, overwhelmingly approved raising the city's minimum wage by $1 an hour.

The proposal would make the minimum wage $6.15 an hour, and would cover every business in New Orleans. Seventy-nine cities and counties have also raised the minimum wage, but they generally limit the increase to public employees or employees of public contractors.

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Opponents of the increase have said some employers will leave the city if they are required to pay higher wages. They also say it could hurt the tourism industry, since businesses would pass on the added costs to consumers.

Though 63 percent of voters approved the proposal, it now faces a legal battle. Backers have already filed a petition with a state court, asking a judge to uphold the new wage and throw out a 1997 state law barring cities from imposing their own minimums. David Swanson, a spokesman for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which backed the proposal, says he is confident his organization has a good case. "It ought to stand simply as a matter of democracy," he says. "The people have been allowed to vote, and it's quite clear what they want."