A bill aimed at repealing Minneapolis and St. Paul’s new paid sick leave ordinances — and preventing other Minnesota cities from passing their own labor rules — cleared a first hurdle in the Minnesota Legislature on Thursday.
The proposal, introduced by Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, would prohibit cities from enacting ordinances that would mandate a higher minimum wage, paid sick leave or other types of leave or requirements about scheduling workers. After hours of public testimony, most of it in opposition to the bill, the House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee approved the plan in a 13-9 party line vote.
Garofalo said his intent with the bill was to avoid a patchwork of regulations around the state.
“There are 854 cities in Minnesota,” he said. “It is unrealistic and unproductive to have 854 labor laws across the state.”
But a parade of speakers, including members of labor groups, clergy members, teachers, retail and fast food workers and others said the plan would hurt workers and take away cities’ prerogative to make policies that make sense for their own residents.
It would be retroactive to any ordinance passed after Jan. 1, 2016, which means it would pre-empt sick leave measures passed by both of the state’s largest cities last year. It could also block Minneapolis from passing a higher minimum wage, which officials have said is a goal for this year.
Katie Drahos, a retail worker and member of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, took issue with supporters of the bill who said businesses already take care of their workers. She said she’s never felt like she had power in workplaces run by large companies — but sees city government as a place she can lobby for her interests on how she is treated.
“House File 600 is a direct attack on the working class, and an attempt to make government even less accessible,” she said.
Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Bender told the committee that she and her colleagues would like to see statewide laws that would mandate a higher minimum wage and paid sick leave for all workers. But with workplace bills failing to gain traction in state government, Bender said cities like Minneapolis are acting alone to address “the very real situation of families in our community for whom one or two days of missed pay means being able to pay rent or not.”
But some business owners and several representatives of business organizations agreed with Garofalo’s plan, saying that new rules from cities are likely to raise costs for businesses.
Deepak Nath, owner of the Pourhouse, a downtown Minneapolis bar and restaurant, said he struggles as a small-business owner because of high taxes and increasing regulations imposed by the city. Without limits to those regulations, he said he will have to raise prices — and likely more customers will opt to take their business elsewhere.
“People on both sides of the minimum wage issue like to use words like the ‘livable wage’ and the ‘working man,’ ” he said. “I am also a working man, and every day I wake up I fight for my family — and I am currently under assault by the city of Minneapolis.”
Cam Winton, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said businesses benefiting from Minnesota’s stable economy and low unemployment rate are already offering higher wages and a growing list of new benefits to workers. He said making those benefits a requirement in some cities, but not others, is likely to create a logistical hardship that would likely require companies to hire additional attorneys and human resources administrators.
“It’s mind-boggling, the complexity,” he said.
Several DFL members of the committee spoke against the bill, arguing that it would harm workers and restrict the type of local control the GOP often champions. Garofalo was the only committee Republican to testify in favor of the bill.
A similar bill is scheduled to be heard in a Senate committee next week. Both bills would still need to be approved by the full Legislature and signed by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton to become law.