Bill That Wipes Out Minimum Wage Gains Advances Despite Intense Opposition

“This bill is about grinding the face of the poor,” theologian David Weiss told a packed public hearing on Monday about a bill that could nullify local minimum wage laws in Minnesota. Opponents of what they call “a local interference bill” see it as immoral and an attack on laws that have brought earned sick and safe time to Minneapolis-St. Paul and other Minnesota cities. Supporters the “Uniform State Labor Standards Act”, say it is needed to prevent a “patchwork” of labor laws across the state.

SF 580 was authored by Sen. Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) and others. None of the bill’s authors represent Minneapolis or St. Paul, though most of the bill’s opponents hailed from neither city. According to Miller, the bill is about creating a fair and consistent statewide labor standards, but others argue the bill is an attempt to cede control on important issues away from local communities.

“It’s a vote that democracy doesn’t matter…we should defend local communities and local control,” said Julie Blaha, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO. The union along with ISAIAH, Jewish Community Action, Main Street Alliance, and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change oppose the bill.

Bill would roll back hard won local victories

Opponents of the bill, including Minneapolis City Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden, noted that earned sick and safe time had been fought for and won on local levels, because the legislature would not take statewide action. They noted that it would be more appropriate for the Minnesota State Legislature to set a minimum wage floor, which they have done, but not a minimum wage ceiling, which would prevent communities from taking action on their own to raise the minimum wage to better meet the cost of living in their communities, a cost which varies across the state.

Supporters of the bill included the heads of many large associations from across the state including including the Minnesota Business Partnership. Many of the bill’s proponents spoke about the “patchwork of rules” which they argue makes it difficult for them for them to do business in Minnesota.

“This trend of growing workforce mandates is making it very difficult for us,” said Jill Larson, the Deputy Executive Director of the Minnesota Business Partnership.

Bill opponents argued, however, that while mandates may be a difficulty, it is the work of business to respond to those mandates and that increased mandates do not trump a living wage and basic dignity for Minnesota families.

“There is not virtuous about uniform laws if they are uniformly bad,” said Pastor Grant Stevenson of faith-based organizing group ISAIAH, which had turned out their leaders en-masse to the hearing.

There was some tension in the meeting as hearing chair Sen. Paul Anderson (R-Plymouth) threatened to have people who were applauding statements opposing the bill removed from the room. Sen Jason Isaacson (DFL-Shorview) came to their defense, threatening to leave the meeting if they were removed.

Despite the tension and an attempt to table the bill, the bill was passed on a party line 6-3 votes with only Republicans supporting it. It next goes to the Senate Committee on Local Government. The House version of the bill, HF600, got it’s first committee approval last week on a party-line vote and has a hearing in the House Government Operations and Elections Committee on Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Additional videos:
Entire Hearing

“Small business owners in the Twin Cities have been engaged and working with their City Councils to make decisions that impact them at the local level. There is a growing partnership with businesses, and we are being heard – please don’t stamp that out.” said Jason Rathe, owner of Field Outdoor Spaces in Minneapolis.


Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

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