By Emma Nelson
Minneapolis became one of the first cities in the nation to adopt a $15 minimum wage Friday in a move meant to set an example for the rest of the state and boost the local economy.
"This is a huge victory for workers in Minneapolis," Council Member Lisa Bender said before the historic vote, which prompted labor activists who packed the council chambers to cheer and raise bright red signs that read, "15 WON."
By requiring all employers in the city to pay $15 an hour by July 2024, Minneapolis joins a small group of cities across the country, including Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., that have raised the minimum wage to that level. But no one knows yet what effect the $15 per hour wage will have on businesses or workers, since none of the other cities' ordinances has been fully implemented.
Minneapolis approved its ordinance after years of pressure from labor activists who organized protests, pushed unsuccessfully for a city charter amendment and ratcheted up their lobbying in a city election year. As council members began to line up in support of the higher wage, they did so amid intense opposition from businesses and Republicans in the Legislature who tried unsuccessfully to block cities' attempts to regulate workplaces.
Even as the city moves forward, concerns remain.
"I hate to say it -- because I love Minneapolis and I mean it when I say we all want to see a Minnesota that thrives for everyone -- but I fear that businesses will reduce shifts, reduce employment and move to automation," said Cam Winton, director of labor management policy at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. "We've seen that occur in other cities, and I fully expect the same to happen right here."
But workers who attended the City Hall vote were jubilant -- jumping to their feet, cheering and waving signs before streaming out into the hallway to celebrate.
"I'm just really excited," said Catherine Olsen, a barista. "I'm proud to be in Minneapolis right now."
More work ahead
Council Member Blong Yang, who cast the only vote against the ordinance, said he could not support the $15 wage out of concern for what it would do to businesses in his North Side ward.
"I'm confident Target, McDonald's and plenty of other big companies will be able to accommodate a higher minimum wage," Yang said. "What I am concerned about are small businesses, independent businesses, minority and immigrant owned businesses and their ability to sustain $15 an hour."
Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, the chief author of the Minneapolis ordinance, said the vote was among the most significant of her 12 years on the council -- and somewhat unbelievable.
"Just a few short years ago, people were like, 'This is crazy,' " she said. "And then city after city started taking up that cause, and workers in the Twin Cities said we need to tell these stories."
Council members credited activist groups including 15 Now and Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL) for pushing the wage increase forward. They were a constant presence during minimum wage discussions in recent weeks.
"This is your work and your victory today," Bender told the crowd before the vote.
The council made some small changes to the policy, including adding an exemption defining franchises and corporate chains as large businesses and removing another exemption that defined non-hospital residential care facilities as small businesses.
Large businesses -- those with 100 or more employees -- must phase-in the $15 minimum wage by July 1, 2022. Small businesses have until July 1, 2024.
Though council members expressed relief and excitement, several noted that there will be more work to do as the ordinance is implemented.
City staff are expected to return to the council in the next few months with recommendations for a youth training wage, as well as suggestions for implementing the wage hike at residential care facilities that rely on Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.
The wage increase is also expected to face continued scrutiny -- including legal challenges.
"The reality is, we are just getting started here, and we have a lot of work ahead," said Council Member Andrew Johnson.
City officials are planning to monitor the impact of the wage increase on an ongoing basis.
In the coming weeks, the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce will advocate at City Hall for an analysis conducted by an outside organization -- much like the University of Washington studies of Seattle's wage increases.
"We're in a similar place to where we've been for the past several weeks, continuing to have concerns about how this is going to roll out," said Jonathan Weinhagen, president and CEO of the chamber.
Even some supporters of a citywide $15 minimum wage have come out against the Minneapolis ordinance.
Restaurant owners and workers who lobbied unsuccessfully for a "tip credit" that would count tips toward wages were among those left disappointed Friday.
Jennifer Schellenberg, a bartender and supporter of a tip carve-out, said in a statement that the council "failed tipped restaurant workers in Minneapolis."
"Instead of listening to our concerns, the council moved forward with a proposal that will put our income and our jobs in jeopardy," she said.
Other workers were overcome with emotion as they spoke about what the moment meant for them. Guillermo Lindsay, who's worked at McDonald's for 14 years, said a $15 minimum wage will give him a $5 hourly raise -- enough to buy his 7-year-old son the things he wants.
Worker activists and city leaders, including Mayor Betsy Hodges, repeatedly said Friday that the push to raise the minimum wage is not over in the Twin Cities and Minnesota.
"I think if I have a big message, it's to Congress and it's to the states," Glidden said. "We're passing this because you haven't done your job. And we're sitting here because you are letting the economy fail a huge number of both workers and businesses."
As the minimum wage supporters cheered and embraced outside the council chambers, one man yelled, "St. Paul's next!"
City leaders in St. Paul have not yet publicly discussed an increase to the minimum wage, but all of the candidates running for mayor have said they would support an increase.
"University of Minnesota, we are coming for you," another woman chimed in. Then others joined, calling out targets from Brooklyn Park to Hennepin County.
Staff writer Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this report.
(c)2017 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)