Senate votes to block MN cities from setting their own minimum wage

State lawmakers are looking to thwart minimum wage and sick leave ordinances in the Twin Cities.

Minnesota senators voted in favor of a bill banning local governments – including city councils – from setting their own rules for minimum wage, scheduling and sick leave.

The Senate voted 35-31 in favor of the Uniform State Labor Standards Act, which is designed to keep employee conditions the same across the state. It would block an attempt by Minneapolis to introduce a higher minimum wage, possibly as much as $15 an hour.

But the bill also applies retroactively to Jan. 1, 2016, effectively rescinding new paid sick leave ordinances that were passed by both Minneapolis and St. Paul in the past year. Those are due to go into effect this July.

The vote was mainly down party lines, with Republicans in favor and all but one DFLer, Sen. Dan Sparks (Austin) against. The bill was amended slightly from the House version passed last month, which means members from both chambers will need to come up with identical versions before it is sent to Gov. Mark Dayton.

Under the bill, local governments will be banned from enacting ordinances that set higher minimum wages than the state minimum wage, which is currently $7.75 an hour or $9.50 an hour, depending on company size.

Cities also cannot pass ordinances requiring private employers to provide paid or unpaid leave time, implement so-called "fair scheduling" rules that give employees weeks of notice about their work schedule, or stipulate they must provide a particular benefit, term of employment or working condition.

Arguments for and against

The idea of cities setting their own wage rules has been opposed by state Republicans, who have argued it could cause businesses to shut down or relocate out of cities, and prevent them from hiring more employees.

The bill is also supported by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which argued that a “patchwork of city-by-city ordinances” would place extra burdens on employers, presents a “real risk to commerce,” and “intrudes on the employer-employee relationship.”

But Democrats, many of whom represent urban areas, argue that local minimum wage laws would improve living standards in cities, close poverty gaps and reduce racial disparities.

The senate and house bills have also sparked an ideological debate about who should ultimately be making decisions that impact residents and workers in individual cities.

The League of Minnesota Cities opposes the bills, saying in a letter that they are in "conflict with the League's long-held core value that local elected decision-makers are in the best position to determine what health, safety and welfare regulations best serve their constituents."

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