Community activists in Minneapolis have now gathered twice as many signatures as needed to put a $15-an-hour minimum wage proposal on the ballot this November as a city charter amendment.
People see that “politics as usual” is not working. Some Minneapolis workers sleep in homeless shelters because they cannot afford housing. More than 1 of 4 Minneapolis residents lives in poverty, and half of all black households do. Voters have proposed this ballot initiative out of frustration.
I’m not a Minneapolis resident and cannot vote on the proposal. However, as the author of legislation that would phase in a $15 minimum wage statewide, I’d like to add some comments that might be helpful.
Let’s look at the merits of a $15 minimum wage. We have a broken economy when many hardworking families cannot afford basic necessities such as food, rent and health care. That needs to change.
The public strongly backs the idea of a livable wage, as the outpouring of support for the 15 Now movement illustrates. The principle that “people who work full time should be able to earn enough to keep their families out of poverty” is supported by an overwhelming 94 percent of Americans, according to a 2000 national poll. This is broadly recognized as a matter of fairness.
The 15 Now campaign in Minneapolis understands that we cannot get the economy back on track overnight. Its proposal gives businesses time to adapt, phasing in the $15-an-hour minimum by 2020 for the largest businesses, with a couple more years for others.
Likewise, our legislation at the State Capitol, SF 3612, would phase in $15 an hour by 2022. In 2014, the state raised the minimum wage annually for three years until it reaches $9.50, which will happen this August. SF 3612 would simply continue with annual increases until we reach the $15 level.
This is a responsible, steady course that moves Minnesota’s economy forward. It helps workers but gives businesses time to adjust — as they have done, successfully — under the current phased increase.
In addition to increasing the minimum wage, our worker justice legislation would have other significant benefits to help workers and their families make ends meet: tripling the Working Family Tax Credit (Minnesota’s version of the Earned Income Tax Credit) and properly funding the state Child Care Assistance Program so parents can afford quality child care while they work.
Adding fairness to the economy through policies like this would not make low-income workers rich, but it would give them the dignity of a decent life for their families. This is not radical. In the 1950s and ’60s, most families had only one worker employed outside of the home. And those workers, most often men, were able to support their families on one income, even those who worked at what we now call “low-skill” or “entry-level” jobs — as retail clerks, gas station attendants or janitors.
If Minneapolis voters put this measure on the ballot, it would almost certainly pass. In 2014, minimum-wage increases were on the ballot in four very red, conservative states: Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. Voters approved minimum-wage increases in all four states; voters want fairness for workers.
Now, let’s address the concern raised by Minneapolis business leaders and city officials. They say that Minneapolis would become an “island” with significantly higher wages for its businesses than neighboring communities.
If Minneapolis voters were to adopt the higher wage this November, rather than grumbling about disparities between neighboring cities, Minneapolis civic and business leaders could avoid those differences by helping us enact the $15 minimum wage statewide when the Legislature reconvenes in January 2017.
All workers deserve the dignity of being able to put food on the table and take care of their families’ basic needs. The public understands this; business and civic leaders should, too. This movement sweeping our country will not simply help workers thrive. It will also help businesses and the economy.
John Marty, DFL-Roseville, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.