GOP Legislature could block higher Minneapolis minimum wage

Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges
Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges
Tim Nelson | MPR News file

Last year, Mayor Betsy Hodges said that she didn't support a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for the city alone because she wanted a higher minimum wage across the Twin Cities.

Since then, advocates have won a sick leave mandate in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and preliminary approval for a higher minimum wage from the City Council in Minneapolis.

But then came last month's election. Republicans added three seats to their majority in the Minnesota House and won back the Senate.

"My stance on a regional minimum wage hasn't changed, but the conditions under which we can accomplish that have with the Nov. 8th election," Hodges said, which means a new state law to raise the wage across the metro area isn't in the plan.

Facing a potential DFL endorsement battle in coming months and a re-election bid in November, Hodges has opted to side with supporters of the Minneapolis-only plan, likely a sizeable majority on the city council.

"It's clear that the City Council is going to act and move forward on something," she said, "and I wanted to make sure that I set down some principals for that conversation, including that I don't support a tip penalty."

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That means the minimum wage would also apply to tipped workers, such as restaurant servers.

While some businesses have expressed at least grudging support for a hike in the minimum wage, some remain reluctant. The Minnesota Restaurant Association said including tipped workers in the proposal will hurt the city's hospitality industry.

Businesses have already been pushing back hard on the city's workforce initiatives. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce is fighting the city's sick and safe leave mandate in court and business groups applauded a state Supreme Court decision that struck a minimum wage measure from the ballot in Minneapolis this year.

Republicans in the Legislature are also watching developments in Minneapolis closely.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, who chairs the House jobs committee, said he thinks lawmakers will indeed take action on minimum wages, but not the regional hike Hodges was hoping for.

"The concern at the Legislature is more that we live in one state, and we should have one policy for these important issues," he said. "If we start allowing every city in the state to have their own sick leave, own maternity policy, their own minimum wage, it's just going to make it completely unworkable to do business in the state of Minnesota. And this is going to result in fewer jobs and lower pay for workers."

Garofalo adds that developments elsewhere in the country could also swing the pendulum the other way. He says cases working through federal courts could allow local employment ordinances, including some that could cut into union bargaining rights.

"It creates exposure for a totally different patchwork of labor policies, depending upon what city you're in," he said. "And it could do that in a way that is shown by the progressive left to expand the minimum wage. But it could also be used by conservative groups to push right-to-work laws on a municipal level."