Negotiations resumed Tuesday on legislation to raise Minnesota's minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, but there's still no agreement on future, automatic increases.
House and Senate conference committee members met publicly for the first time in two weeks. Union members were also at the Capitol, pushing for lawmakers to end the stalemate and pass a bill. They've been showing up regularly this session in support of a minimum wage increase tied to inflation.
"The cost of food doesn't go down. The cost of housing doesn't go down," said Eliot Seide, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5. "The minimum wage has to go up."
House Democrats want inflationary increases too, but the Senate DFL has opposed that approach so far.
The new House offer could test the Senate resolve. It would cap the inflationary increases to 3 percent and use a more conservative measure. The $9.50 hourly rate also would not kick in until 2016. A proposal for a 40 hour work week for agriculture employees was also removed.
Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said House Democrats are trying to address some of the Senate's "substantive and legitimate concerns" without scrapping the inflation index language, "which we think is crucial to this bill being successful."
Senate Democrats will discuss the latest House offer during a private caucus meeting Wednesday.
The House and Senate passed conflicting minimum wage bills last session, but the clock ran out and lawmakers went home without a deal. They returned this session pledging quick agreement. But once Senate negotiators abandoned their hourly rate of $7.75 in favor of the House position of $9.50, talks came to a standstill.
Small businesses continue to push back against the looming increase.
The lack of any provision for tipped employees will result in big wage disparities, Minneapolis restaurant owner Naomi Williamson told lawmakers.
"A server is making $31 an hour in our restaurant and our cook, our chef is making $17 an hour or $22 an hour. These disparities in income front to back are going to be exacerbated by this $9.50 to a point of damaging the people you're trying to help."
But the die appears to be cast for $9.50. That's the number DFL Gov. Mark Dayton wants, and he said he's confident the House and Senate negotiators will eventually work out their remaining differences. Dayton also repeated his support for automatic inflationary increases.
"If it only gets dealt with once a decade or longer then during that time whatever the minimum wage is set at, it's steadily being eroded by inflation during that time," he said.
Dayton added that, for now, he's willing to let House and Senate continue their wrangling over the issue. But he stepped in to pressure DFL leaders to pass a tax bill, and he said he could end up doing the same on the minimum wage, if necessary.