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Minn. Senate GOP moves to nix $15 minimum wage in Twin Cities

GOP legislators are proposing that minimum wage laws in cities follow state law.

Republicans in the Minnesota Senate hope to wipe out city-specific labor rules, like the $15 per-hour minimum wage, in the name of protecting the state’s economy.

A provision in the Senate jobs, energy and commerce budget would stop cities from requiring higher minimum wages or sick time for workers that are different than what is already in state law. The proposal would be retroactive to 2017 and would undo minimum wage and other laws passed in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

“It will keep Minnesota labor laws uniform,” said Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, a chief sponsor of the bill. “A patchwork of regulation poses a real threat to commerce in the state.”

Officials with the city of St. Paul did not immediately return a request for comment.

Opposition from workers, DFLers

Democrats tried unsuccessfully to remove preemption from the budget bill. It is not in the House version of the budget and is opposed by Gov. Tim Walz.

State Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, noted that cities are often the first to act to improve the quality of life of their residents. He said the preemption will stop city leaders and activists from addressing concerns of residents.

“Let’s let local units of government respond to the reality of people’s lives,” Dibble said.

A group of 50 organizations that advocate for workers sent a letter to senators Monday echoing Democrats’ opposition to preempting cities from setting higher wages and other benefits.

“The abuse of preemption undermines our local democracy and silences the voice of Minnesotans,” the letter said. “Our local governments must be able to respond to community needs. This is especially necessary given the years of political gridlock at the state and national level.”

Efforts to remove the preemption provision from the Senate budget bill failed with a 31-36 vote that was mostly along party lines.

Court upholds rule

Preemption is a timely issue legally. On Monday, April 30, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that Minneapolis’ safe-and-sick-time ordinance also applies to employers located outside the city boundaries that send employees to the city for work.

The decision will almost certainly be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Such requirements are a part of the reason Pratt and his Republican colleagues think putting preemption in state law is necessary. Mandating wages and sick time above what’s required in state law is beyond the local control cities should have, Pratt said.

“We are just trying to set it back to where we think that authority has rested and should rest,” Pratt said of state government dictating labor laws. “It’s important we have a standard across the state.”

St. Paul City Council approved a $15 per hour minimum wage in 2018 for larger employers. The law phases in the new wage by 2020 and small and medium size employers will have to increase wages at a slower rate.

In 2017, Minneapolis City Council approved moving to a $15 per hour with a similar phase in.

What are its chances?

The preemption proposal is less than two pages of the 126-page jobs, energy and commerce budget the Senate was poised to approve Monday. It would take agreement from the DFL-led House and Gov. Walz for preemption to become law.

That’s unlikely, given Democrats support for cities that want to change labor policies. However, it could become one of many bargaining chips into play as lawmakers try to negotiate the next state budget before the May 20 end of the legislative session.

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