Minimum wage hike dominates Minneapolis mayoral debate

More than 100 fast food workers and supporters
More than 100 fast food workers and supporters rallied for a $15 an hour minimum wage in south Minneapolis Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.
Jon Collins | MPR News 2016

The city of Minneapolis is nearing a vote on a $15 an hour minimum wage ordinance. But the candidates for mayor aren't all completely on board with the plan.

Some said they worried about the wage hike's planned pace. The higher wage, if it passes, will likely be phased in over a five-year period. So, a $15 minimum hourly wage for workers wouldn't happen until July 2022.

Levy-Pounds, a former law professor and former president of the Minneapolis NAACP, owns a talent management service based in north Minneapolis. She said she agrees with Mayor Hodges that a regional minimum wage is a good idea, "but the reality is we can't wait for St. Paul. We can't wait for other cities to do the right thing. At some point as a city, we have to become a leader."

Some expressed cynicism about the city's proposal. Flowers, whose family used to run an early childhood learning center, called the city's $15 an hour wage plan a "ruse."

"It's a political ploy. It's not going to happen," he said. "You'll kill a lot of small business. You're not going to grow small business saying you got to pay them $15 an hour. You have to have other equity things in place, like affordable housing."

Rahman, a filmmaker and small businessman, said the wage requirement will disproportionately hurt small business owners of color.

Dehn, a lawmaker who represents a section of Minneapolis at the Minnesota House of Representatives, said higher mandated wages won't come without some costs. But he says it will be worth it.

"The customers will pay a little bit more, the businesses will pay a little bit more," he said. "But it's been proven out that as we pump more and more money into the economy, it benefits the whole, systemwide."

Like Dehn, Hodges said customers, business owners and workers will pay.

"But I also think the question is, who is paying now for the lack of a minimum wage?" she said. "And we all are, right now, paying now for a lack of minimum wage because of people being able to work full time or two full time jobs and still living in poverty."

As people earn more, Hodges added, they will rely less on tax payer funded services.

Council member Jacob Frey said he's been taking an active part in crafting the ordinance. Frey stressed that he wants to make the new base wage fair for workers and business owners.

"A lot of people can talk about it. But I'm part of the very small trio at the council who is ultimately going to get this done," he said. "And yes, yes, I do think we can get this done effectively. And no, I do not think you're going to see a massive exodus from the city, because we're going to do it right."

Hours after the forum ended, Frey and his colleagues approved a measure that would allow businesses of 100 employees or fewer to work up to the $15 wage floor at a slower pace than larger companies. The council will hold a public hearing later this month before a final vote. Meanwhile, city officials continue to work out the details of the ordinance.

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