Minn. House votes this week on minimum wage bill

Minimum wage
Barbara Johnson, owner of Lyle's Cafe in Winthrop, Minn., speaks in support of a bill to raise Minnesota's minimum wage during a news conference Monday, April 29, 2013 at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. A House bill would raise the minimum wage, which hasn't been raised since 2005, to $9.50 per hour over three years.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

The Minnesota House is expected to vote later this week on legislation that would increase the state's minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015, the first boost since 2005.

Minnesota's minimum wage is currently set at $6.15 per hour, although virtually all workers earn at least the higher, federal rate of $7.25.

Lawmakers made some significant changes to the bill Monday during its final committee stop. The proposed rate is nearly $1 lower than the revised minimum wage that House Democrats proposed earlier in the legislative session.

The increase, which would come in three steps, would benefit thousands of Minnesota families, said the bill's author, state Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley.

"Sixty-plus percent of the workers making minimum wage are age 25 and older," Ryan told members of the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday. "Over 50 percent of them are using their income to support families.

"These are not teenage jobs," he said. "These are jobs that people are using and working in to support families across the state of Minnesota, not just in greater Minnesota but in the metro area as well."

The committee also made additions to the bill. One provision expands the availability of unpaid parental leave from six to 12 weeks. Another would lower the threshold for overtime pay from 48 hours a week to 40 hours.

Agriculture groups and some rural legislators oppose the overtime change. State Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, said she thinks the requirement goes too far.

"The ag workers are not necessarily like factory workers where they go in and can clock in and clock out," Poppe said. "Certainly agriculture has a concern about weather conditions and about other natural occurrences, and they're not as easy to just say this is when we're going to do something and get it done."

Republicans uniformly condemned the wage increase as harmful to small business. State Rep. Bob Dettmer, GOP-Forest Lake, said the bill's automatic inflationary increases will be especially tough for restaurants.

"This will probably be hard for employers in this type of industry to give their raises just based on merit and the hard-work ethic, which is most employers like to do," Dettmer said. "So, I know I have some great concerns about this legislation."

For state Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, the worst part of the bill is that it doesn't include a tip credit. McNamara said restaurants should be able to pay a lower base wage to their food servers who earn tips.

"Doggone it," McNamara said. "Why do you want to give the waiter and the waitress, who's making 22 bucks and hour now, another raise, and the cook and the busboy and the cleaning staff get jilted again?"

But supporters of the bill argue that putting more money in the pockets of low-wage workers will actually help businesses and give the entire state economy a boost. Those workers deserve some help, said state Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, who h has grown frustrated with the Republican critics of the bill.

"I have sat through an hour of listening to the other side of the aisle do everything they possibly can to pump up business and say, 'it's all business, it's all business, it's all business,'" Mahoney said. "Where the hell are the workers in this particular argument? I'm a little tired of listening to this."

The revised House minimum wage rate of $9.50 is still significantly higher than the $7.50 that Democrats in the Senate are proposing.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook said he thinks lawmakers will approve an increase this session, but he's not sure what the final number will be.

Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, supports a minimum wage increase and has previously said he would be comfortable with $9.00 or $9.50 an hour.

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