State lawmakers vote to stop Twin Cities setting own minimum wage, sick leave

Dozens of opponents to the bill made their feelings clear inside and outside the House chamber.

In a lengthy debate at the Minnesota House Thursday night, state representatives voted in favor of a bill preventing cities setting their own labor ordinances, including minimum wages and paid leave.

The House website reports that lawmakers voted 76-53 along party lines for a bill sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R–Farmington). This appears to head off moves in Minneapolis to introduce a citywide $15 minimum wage that would be phased in over the coming years.

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, and which are due to go into effect this July.

The bill says that local governments can introduce new sick leave and minimum wage requirements for their own workers and anyone who contracts with them, but not private companies.

It will now move on to the Senate, where it's being sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Miller (R–Winona), but according to MPR, Rep. Garafalo thinks that it would ultimately get vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton as it is, so he's hopeful of a compromise bill that would be acceptable to Democrats and the governor.

As well as sick leave and minimum wage, the bill would also stop local governments from implementing scheduling requirements for private employers, which follows a debate about "fair scheduling" that erupted in Minneapolis towards the end of 2015.

Debate rages inside and outside the chamber

The bill drew dozens of opponents who rallied in the Capitol halls, arguing that the local minimum wage laws would improve living standards in cities, close poverty gaps and reduce racial disparities in a state where the median income for white people is more than double what it is for black people.

DFLers in the House were on their side, with Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-St. Paul) describing the bill preventing cities from introducing their own labor ordinances as "the voice of corporations."

But on the other side, Rep. Jim Nash (R–Waconia) said individual minimum wage and sick leave ordinances would cause businesses to shut down or relocate out of cities and prevent them from hiring more employees.

Rep. Garafalo, meanwhile, said that without the bill becoming law, some cities might be able to introduce ordinances that are unfavorable to workers.

The bill was 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."

This reference to a "patchwork" of ordinances was echoed by Rep. Garofalo in his statement after the vote. He also said: "The state has been responsible for setting minimum wage and employment standards since Minnesota's statehood; this bill makes that precedence clear in state statute.

"We want to make sure there is a uniform set of regulations across our state so that businesses know what is required of them in Minnesota."

Five amendments that were ultimately withdrawn were put forward during the debate, including one by Rep. David Bly (DFL–Northfield) requiring employers to give workers 21 days' notice of their work schedules.

But Rep. Jim Knoblach (R–St. Cloud) responded: "I don’t think you realize how devastating your amendment would be to thousands of businesses across the state," with Republicans citing examples of funeral parlors, emergency responders and even print shops that need workers on short notice.

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