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Minneapolis Council explores imposing higher minimum wage in the city

REUTERS/Adrees Latif
About 400 activists and workers clogged Times Square during Thursday morning rush hour in the latest of ongoing actions aimed at raising fast-food workers wage to $15 an hour.

This is one in a series of articles funded by a grant from the Northwest Area Foundation.

Could a higher minimum wage be coming to Minneapolis?

On the same day he attended a rally at a Northeast Minneapolis McDonald’s to support higher pay for fast food workers, Minneapolis City Councilmember Jacob Frey said he is looking into such a proposal.

MinnPost file photo by Terry Gydesen
Councilmember Jacob Frey

The Minneapolis rally was one of 150 planned nationwide designed to draw attention to the financial stress placed on fast food workers. Frey said he took part because he considers low pay a major issue. 

“In the last 20 years we’ve seen the gap between rich and poor grow to an extreme extent,” Frey said. “And over the last 50 years, the wage hasn’t increased anywhere near the rate of inflation. People can work in excess of a full-time job and not be even remotely close to making enough to survive.”

Frey said he has asked city attorneys to research whether a city can adopt a minimum wage higher than the state mandates. Frey, who worked as an attorney before winning election to the council last year, said he doesn’t think cities in Minnesota are expressly preempted from acting, but wants to make sure such a proposal isn’t prohibited under state law.

Should Minneapolis act, it would come just months after an increase in the state minimum wage took it from $6.15 per hour to $8. Two annual increases will take the wage to $9.50 by 2016, and in 2018, the rate will be indexed to inflation.

Frey was quick to compliment the advocates and lawmakers who passed those increases in the capitol, calling it a “heavy lift.” But he thinks wages must be higher, and is willing to sponsor an ordinance to require a higher wage floor within the city.

The move would follow similar efforts in other cities. In June, Seattle voted to gradually raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour, an increase that will be phased in over three-to-seven years (based on the number of workers at a business and credits for tips and health benefits). 

Seattle City Councilmember Sally Clark said Frey is wise to start with a legal analysis. “You have to know whether you can deliver or not,” Clark advised. “If you are trying to lead a movement and you can’t deliver, you’ve raised expectations of lower-wage workers and you’ve burned political capital.”

Minimum Wage: Too low or too costly?Clark said the movement for a $15 wage in Seattle began not in city hall but among activists, some of whom came out of the Occupy movement and the Socialist Alternative. Later, the movement had the financial and organizational support of the Service Employees International Union, which represented wage-hike activists on a final deal and is a backer of Thursday’s rallies across the nation. “People are so frustrated with the lack of action on the state and federal levels and they’re willing to go to the streets with that,” she said.

Minneapolis has not witnessed the same size or intensity of rallies and marches seen in other parts of the country — Thursday’s “Fight for $15” push by some fast-food workers among the first in the area. But Frey said he thinks it is an issue that will have support, that residents are looking to local governments to accomplish what gridlock prevents the federal government and even state governments from doing. “It’s why it is so exciting right now to be working in local government,” Frey said.

Update: Council Member Alondra Cano has put together a working group of council members, city staff and representatives of the mayors office to look at the issue. First, she wants to update the city’s existing living wage ordinance which applies to businesses doing work for the city.

And while she said raising the minimum wage for all workers in the city is “morally the right thing to do and it is the right time to do it,” the issue raises complications that she wants to investigate. Cano says she doesn’t want to inadvertently create incentives for businesses to move out of the city — and she is concerned how a higher wage might hurt small and immigrant-owned businesses.

Cano said she thinks the city has legal “wiggle room” to act, though she thinks the discussion and investigation could take between six and nine months.

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/05/2014 - 11:19 am.

    Nice, that someone on the City Council is even talking about Minneapolis establishing a decent minimum wage. But, Frey should beware of the local pay-’em-as-little-as-possible juggernaut: the Target Corporation.

    Target has so much clout locally, that when the corporation received city subsidy to establish their downtown headquarters they refused to comply with already-existing Minneapolis ordinance that required they pay their workers a livable wage, in exchange for that taxpayer money.

  2. Submitted by Brad Arnold on 09/05/2014 - 03:14 pm.

    It isn’t just a matter of social justice or politics

    It hurts my intellectual bone that people always put raising the minimum wage in the context of social justice or good politics. Instead, I am a political moderate (although the GOP has become too radical for me to generally support), so I would urge those reading this to understand that raising the minimum wage is good for the economy. This isn’t just my opinion, there are now sufficient facts accumulate to support this proposition.

    Instead, a cadre of ideologically driven people oppose the minimum wage increase on the basis of the off-the-cuff doctrine that it causes jobs to be lost. Yeah, in marginal situations that is the case, but the increased money in the pockets of those poor people will be spent, spurring the local economy, and more than compensate. Ideology is like a personality disorder: you see things through a distorted lens. I am simply being functional.

    Please, for the sake of our local economy, don’t follow the GOP strategy of a race to the bottom, with lower taxes, lower wages, and a “competitive economic environment.” I urge you to simply look at the facts: localities that have raised the minimum wage (BTW, kudos to the Democratically controlled Minnesota legislator for passing a state-wide increase) do better. I want a better local economy – and that means following the hard facts: raising the local minimum wage is good for the local economy, and therefore is good for business in general.

    BTW, I would be glad to prove to any rational mind that what I am claiming is a fact. I simply can’t change an ideological closed mind, but I can vote against them in the next election.

  3. Submitted by Josh Casey on 09/05/2014 - 10:28 pm.

    Hard facts

    Brad please provide your references. I would like to read more on the subject.

    • Submitted by Brad Arnold on 09/06/2014 - 08:09 am.

      The (logical and evidentiary) case for the minimum wage increase

      First, I would like to say that no amount of data or reason will convince those ideological close minded individuals that either have a different agenda (i.e. serving big money donors with contrary interests, or that were taught that it kills jobs and don’t have the ability to change their core belief).

      Here is the best case, unfortunately presented by what ideologues would consider a biased source (but then they would find any source not confirming their POV to be bias in some way):

      Here is a case study from 1992:

      This is a strong argument from Business Week (which intuition would suggest is strongly pro-business):

      I could cite about a dozen other sources that make strong arguments for raising the minimum wage, but they can be pigeon-holed as left leaning, so you are free to google them yourself if you choose.

      There is one thing that I think people that are against minimum wage increase fail to consider: that companies that don’t pay a living wage are taking advantage of the United States (meager) social safety net.

      The annual cost of public assistance to people whom work for sub-living wage. This amounts to a government subsidy to companies that take advantage of people’s desperation and local job market conditions to pay a wage that isn’t adequate to reimburse the employee for reasonable fixed and variable costs associated with being able to furnish their labor to the business. I can easily furnish a number of links associated with that.

  4. Submitted by Ray Marshall on 09/06/2014 - 07:00 am.

    Minimum wage

    Most minimum wage jobs are “entry-level” positions are not expected that they will lead to careers in the company or agency.

    Why is it that I have never read anywhere that a quite large percentage of people who work in minimum wage jobs, 1 – work part time for extra income; 2- live with their parents and don’t pay rent; 3- have room-mates to share rent; 4- use their parents’ car for transportation; 5- depend on their minimum wage job for supplementary family income; 6- depend on their minimum wage job to supplement pension income; etc.

    I’d love tosee documentation by age, sex, etc. on just how many minimum age employees there are and how many of them have alternative sources of income. Then we can talk about how necessary an increase is.

    Government is too complicated for most elected council and legislative people to understand. So, to get re-elected, they depending on giving people money and benefits to get their votes.

  5. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 09/06/2014 - 09:49 am.

    At least my money would be going somewhere useful…

    As a Minneapolis resident my money goes to the various stadiums, millionaire players and billionaire owners, at least this time paying more for my bagel and coffee in the morning will actually go to someone who needs it.

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