The push for a $15 minimum wage has arrived on St. Paul leaders' doorstep.
Low-wage workers along with religious leaders and labor advocates gathered outside City Hall on Tuesday to demand St. Paul take up the issue.
They turned their focus to St. Paul after Minneapolis adopted a $15 minimum wage this summer, and showed up Tuesday touting Target's announcement this week that it would raise its lowest wages to $15 an hour by 2020.
"Poverty is bad for business. All our people need at least $15 an hour livable wage, because when all people thrive it's good for business, too. Just ask Target," James Erlandson, a pastor at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in St. Paul.
He is a member of ISAIAH, a religious advocacy group that helped convince St. Paul leaders last year to require all employers to provide workers with paid sick leave. Advocates who know City Council members through the sick leave campaign will soon start reaching out to them about the $15 wage, Erlandson said.
Council Member Chris Tolbert said he met last week with some advocates for the higher minimum wage in what was largely an informational session.
"There are a lot of questions that need to be answered," Tolbert said. "It's a complex issue."
The most immediate focus for advocates is not the City Council, but St. Paul mayoral candidates. ISAIAH will host public conversations with candidates Oct. 15 and Erlandson hopes they will all commit to raising the minimum wage.
Many mayoral candidates, including Melvin Carter, Elizabeth Dickinson, Tom Goldstein, Pat Harris and Dai Thao have said they support an increased wage, but warn that the city needs to look at ways to mitigate the effects on small businesses.
"There is a growing recognition that this is the way our society is going to go," said Dickinson, the only mayoral candidate at Tuesday's event.
Dickinson attended a recent meeting of St. Paul, Minneapolis and St. Louis Park restaurateurs and $15 minimum wage advocates.
Alicia Hinze, who owns the Buttered Tin in Lowertown, hosted the meeting at her restaurant. She supports an increased minimum wage, a view that she acknowledges is not that common among restaurant owners.
The $15 minimum would help balance workers' pay, she said, noting that servers often earn more than skilled cake decorators, pastry chefs and line cooks. Restaurant owners could institute service charges to help cover increased costs, but she said they have to be transparent with customers and workers about such changes.
"It's a matter of how we make the change, and how we relate it to our guests and our employees," Hinze said.
St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce President B Kyle, however, raised concerns with the locally focused effort to raise wages.
"City by city labor regulations create a compliance nightmare that can hamper economic development," Kyle said in a statement. Poverty and inequality need to be addressed, she said, but the best way to get results is to "bring people across Minnesota together instead of allowing national interests to target our city in a way that does more to divide than unite."
St. Paul resident Marfa Malcolm sees things differently. She was one of several speakers Tuesday who said a $15 minimum wage would make a difference in their lives.
A single mother, Malcolm said she juggles three jobs, and a higher wage would allow her to spend more time with her family.
"If Minneapolis can do it, St. Paul can do it," Malcolm said.