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Group formed to include differing perspectives on paid-leave mandate in Minneapolis has differing perspectives on paid leave

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
The facilitator of the Workplace Partnership Group, Luke Weisberg.

The group of residents charged with making recommendations about paid leave policies in Minneapolis is just about finished listening and has started talking — and disagreeing. 

On Monday, with all but four of the 14 public meetings dubbed “listening sessions” completed, members of the Workplace Partnership Group began to talk about what they might ultimately recommend to the City Council. The meeting at city hall was the first indication of the conflicts among the appointed members, who represent both employee and employer groups, unions and management, large businesses and small.

While the chair of the task force was careful to steer clear of anything that looked like decision-making until the final listening sessions are completed Thursday, some members expressed concern that a key decision had already been made. That is, the “policy decision outline” presented to members seems to presume that the group will recommend that the council adopt an ordinance with some form of mandatory paid leave. Though the outline laid out policy choices for what an ordinance would look like, it did not include a “no recommendation” option. 

“At some point we should say, ‘It’s an ordinance, it’s a mandate that will have ramifications,’ or, ‘It’s incentives or best practices,’ ” said Bruce Nustad, a work group alternate member who works for the Minnesota Retailers Association

Ron Harris of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, a task force member representing employees, called that choice “the big elephant in the room.” And task force vice-chair Jim Rowader, a Target attorney representing employers, said “the answer to that question drives everything afterward, right?” 

The conversation became a bit contentious when Steve Cramer, a member representing the Minneapolis Downtown Council, said if the group has already decided to recommend mandatory paid leave, he didn’t have reason to keep attending the meetings. 

“Personally I have an incentive to stay here at the table to try to work through these various issues in order to set what would be a reasonable standard for Minneapolis,” said Cramer, the Downtown Council’s president and CEO. “And we can disagree as to whether it should be mandated or promulgated in some different way. But if right off the bat this is going to be an ordinance, period, ‘We’re going to mandate this despite what we heard from so many employers,’ I don’t have much of an incentive to stay here.” 

But Danny Schwartzman, the owner of Common Roots Cafe and work group member representing small employers, questioned the alternatives to a mandatory plan, such as policies that would encourage employers to offer paid leave but not mandate it. “Steve, if you’re planning on suggesting that this be an incentive based system or voluntary or something else,” Schwartzman said to Cramer, “wouldn’t it be helpful, if you’re threatening … ” 

“I’m not threatening anything,” Cramer interrupted. 

“You were saying that if we decided this wasn’t voluntary, that you might think that you shouldn’t be here. I think it would be helpful to have a concrete suggestion as to what an incentive system would look like. I haven’t heard that yet,” Schwartzman said. 

While some business people suggested an incentive system that could award businesses with paid leave policies with a certification for display, Schwartzman said he also heard from businesses who fear that would lead to them competing with businesses that don’t offer benefits.

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Left to right: Sarah Webster Norton, Steve Cramer (partially obscured), Tony Lacroix-Dalluhn, Susie Brown and Danny Schwartzman expressing their opinions on some of the decisions points by holding up between one and six fingers.

Work group Chair Liz Doyle acknowledged that the decision-making outline does presume that the group will recommend an ordinance. “But if there’s interest in having one of those votes be ‘this is either an ordinance or a voluntary system’ instead, we could put that on the list of items to be voted on.” 

Luke Weisberg, the facilitator for the work group, said it will ultimately be up to the council. 

“They make laws,” he said. “So our assumption is that we’re going to give them recommendations that they’re going to turn into an ordinance. But there’s a range of ways to structure that ordinance so that certain things are required or maybe something softer than a requirement — an expectation with an incentive. Either way, there’s an assumption that council is looking for us to say, ‘You ought to do something and that something ought to include these things.’” 

Asked Sarah Webster Norton, an alternate member representing employees: “So we can’t have the recommendation to do nothing. Or is that one of our choices?” 

The task force did signal one key decision: If an ordinance is recommended it will cover not just those who work for employers based in Minneapolis but instead will cover all employees who work within the city limits, regardless of the location of the employer. 

The group of 15 members and four alternates has at least four more meetings with a goal of having a recommendation to the City Council by Feb. 24. 

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Clete Erickson on 01/26/2016 - 03:06 pm.

    Decision already made?

    “Work group Chair Liz Doyle acknowledged that the decision-making outline does presume that the group will recommend an ordinance.”

    Pretty bold statement when the committee was formed to study the issue and by not having a option that does nothing you kind of already made the decision before all the input has been taken. I would agree with Mr. Cramer in that it seems like the decision is being made before all the meetings input sessions have taken place.

  2. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/26/2016 - 05:10 pm.

    Context clarifies this: The group was appointed precisely to study how Minneapolis can form an ordinance that requires businesses to provide their employees with paid sick leave. Not just “paid leave,” but Paid SICK leave,” which is different and a major policy issue.

    That context, to the average Minneapolis citizen and taxpayer, demands an ordinance that requires paid sick leave of some sort. Remember, it was originally a higher minimum wage, decent scheduling, anti-wage-theft, and paid sick leave movement on the part of workers and some enlightened employers. We’re now down to paid sick leave only, and Steve Cramer and Target are, indeed, threatening the process by saying they’ll pick up their ball and bat and go home if a “Do Nothing” option isn’t included.

    There should be no recommendation of either a voluntary system for employers or “Do Nothing” option. That contradicts the committee’s charge, and Steve Cramer and the Target VP know that. They’re trying to gut this effort, as they did the minimum wage increase, the decent scheduling initiative, the anti-wage-theft ordinance.

    Good reporting, Mr. Callahan!

  3. Submitted by joe smith on 01/27/2016 - 09:23 am.

    Let all “enlightened employers” give sick leave and the workers will flock to those businesses leaving the “unenlightened employers” with no work force. The “gutting” you are talking about was the committee understanding, after listening to the unenlightened employers, that these proposals would cost jobs. The committee knowing there would be blowback by the “enlightened advocates” for all the job killing proposals, settled on paid sick leave as least destructive to killing jobs.

    If you as a small business owner go out and find a suitable spot for your business, get a loan (secured by something you own of value), buy machines, buy inventory, insure building, insure employees, insure machines and have numerous other expenses just to get up and running, want to give paid sick leave great, do it. If you choose not to, you as a business person has that right by all the risks you are taking just to hire your employees.

  4. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/27/2016 - 03:40 pm.

    The mayor and the City Council always have the option of doing nothing on this issue.

    But at the moment, Steve Cramer, for the Chamber of Commerce and the big companies in the Downtown Council, and his colleagues like Target are contravening this appointed committee’s charge: To come up with ways Minneapolis can word an ordinance on paid sick leave that protects hourly-wage employees.

    They are to study the HOW to achieve that goal. The political arena is where the WHETHER is decided: in the Council. By trying to kill the initiative in this committee they are, indeed, attempting to gut the process of any meaning.

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