$15 minimum wage should go to Minneapolis voters, judge rules

Protesters chant before the council meeting.
Protesters chant before the Minneapolis City Council meeting on Aug. 3 before discussion of a $15 an hour minimum wage.
Christopher Juhn for MPR News

Updated: Aug. 23, 8:40 a.m. | Posted: Aug. 22, 2:00 p.m.

A judge has ruled that a proposal to put a $15 an hour minimum wage to Minneapolis voters should go on the ballot this fall, setting the stage for a historic vote.

Hennepin County Judge Susan Robiner issued her opinion Monday, saying that a proposed charter amendment that would eventually raise the city's minimum wage to $15 must be included on the November ballot. The political arena — and not the courts — is likely the appropriate forum for sorting out the wage issues, she said.

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The ruling comes after supporters submitted a petition with thousands of signatures to the City Council. The city attorney issued a legal opinion against it, and the council declined to approve it for a citywide vote earlier this month.

The city held that wage regulations weren't appropriate for a charter amendment, and that the charter doesn't allow direct proposals for another form of regulation — regular city ordinances.

Minneapolis employment attorney Paul Lukas, who represents supporters of the measure, hailed the decision.

"It's not an easy path, but it's the one we had to take and that's sort of the position of the clients, is that the City Council, you know, would have in our opinion, been bogged down forever," Lukas said. "Special interests get involved, and what you end up having is you end up having very small groups of special interests slowing down or stopping something that everybody wants."

A spokesperson for Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said it is not clear yet if the city will appeal.

John Stanoch, interim head of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, said his organization is urging the city to appeal the ruling, and quickly. Ballot language has to be finalized by Friday.

"We know this will impact many of our members and be a significant issue for many of them," Stanoch said. "Our concern from a policy perspective has been if you increase minimum wage hourly for some employees, do others find themselves in a situation where they have reduced hours or jobs that are eliminated in order to allow businesses to absorb the cost of a minimum wage increase?"

Advocates for the $15 minimum wage said gradually hiking the rate — starting with $10 an hour next year, moving to $15 by 2020 — is a way to fight poverty and racial disparity.

Mike Griffin, field director for Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, said advocates plan to launch a large grassroots campaign in coming weeks.

"We're planning on talking to tens of thousands of voters several times over the next two months," Griffin said. "Last week we released polling information that said about 68 percent of Minneapolis voters will vote yes on a ballot initiative. That's a good place to start."

In a separate ruling, Judge Robiner dismissed a petition to place a charter amendment to require police carry liability insurance on the November ballot. The proposal would raise premiums for officers who are repeatedly sued for misconduct.

"The idea is for personal responsibility for the officers," said Dave Bicking, chair of the Committee for Professional Policing. "Right now, if an officer conducts misconduct and is sued, the city just pays and the officer has no consequences for i — this would provide consequences for those officers who can't follow police policy and the law."

Bicking said members of his group are not surprised by the judge's decision, but believe that Minneapolis voters should be allowed to weigh in on the proposal.

"We have a responsibility to the 15,000 people who signed our petition," Bicking said. "And we have a responsibility to the people out there who are being beat up, and worse, by Minneapolis police officers."

The group plans to file an emergency appeal to the judge's decision sometime in the next few days.