I read with great interest the Feb. 26 editorial on the local labor law pre-emption bills going through the Legislature. This is an issue that I am passionate about. I testified before two House and two Senate committees against these bills. I testified as a business owner who has always paid wages greater than the minimum-wage rate and given my employees vacation as well as paid and unpaid time off. The editorial echoed some of the arguments I heard in testimony in the committees. These arguments do not justify taking the step of pre-empting locally elected governments from governing. I want to respond to the issues the editorial raised.
Right from the top, the headline (“Seek compromise on state, city labor rules”) was misleading. The implication was that there has not been compromise. During committee testimony, I heard of Minneapolis and St. Paul having inputs from hundreds of individuals, representatives of small and large businesses, and government officials. It seems to me that a decision from a large and diverse group such as that defines compromise.
Later, the editorial stood against “one size fits all” local laws, yet we have the state’s existing ”one size fits all” system. These local laws have been passed precisely because the state cannot or will not respond to these needs in these cities.
I heard the “patchwork of laws” testimony from almost every proponent of the bills. Seemingly, best case against the “patchwork” of laws was presented by the trucking industry representative. His concern was tracking employees who were in different cities and counties daily and how difficult compliance to local laws could be.
In fact, the human resources and payroll departments in those companies already deal with much more complex issues. Every payday, they have multiple employees with different numbers of dependents, different optional deductions, different health-care plans, different vacation and paid-time-off schedules, different 401(k) contributions, and different number of hours worked. Furthermore, dispatch personnel already know exactly where and when a driver is at a location. The point is, they have the data and systems in place to work with compliance issues as they may occur.
In committee testimony, I also heard of numerous employees telling stories of having to make decisions between taking a sick child to the doctor and losing his or her job because the employer would not grant time off. I also heard stories of employees themselves going to work sick because they could not get time off for a doctor visit. I would prefer those employees working in the food-service sector to be in good health when they handle my food.
The pre-emption action that these bills would enact is an extreme action that is unwarranted. Local governments were elected by their citizens to govern as they see fit. Passing bills like these, or even some “compromised” version, actually stifles compromise at the local level. These decisions should be left to local governments. The state should be setting a floor or minimum benefit and not pre-empt a city from looking at its unique situation.
The position of the Star Tribune Editorial Board appears to be that, for instance, the Minneapolis $15 minimum wage is too high. Why can’t we let Minneapolis find out for itself? If this wage rate has the numerous bad effects that the Editorial Board fears, there will be changes. Those changes will likely be discussed, argued and enacted through more compromise. Why not let the cities be incubators of these new trends and see where they lead us? Why not let the cities be the sites of new experiments and, in doing that, be the sites of the compromise that the Editorial Board is looking for?
Jeffrey Benny, of St. Louis Park, is a small-business owner.