The state’s business community last week opened a second front of resistance — a legal one — to the paid sick- and safe-leave ordinances enacted in May in Minneapolis and September in St. Paul.
Employer organizations have long made clear their intention to ask the 2017 Legislature to expressly pre-empt municipal moves to require employers to offer their employees paid time off. On Friday, they filed a lawsuit in Hennepin County District Court arguing that an implicit pre-emption of paid leave ordinances already exists in statute, and should be invoked to nullify the actions of the Minneapolis and St. Paul city councils.
Both at the State Capitol and in the courtroom, an array of employers and their associations, including the powerful Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, will argue that employee benefit regulations are rightfully a matter for state regulation, not local control.
But as those same organizations have also made clear during recent legislative sessions, they don’t think state government should impose such regulations either. As the Star Tribune Editorial Board has previously written, employers make a compelling argument that the one-size-fits-all mandate that has been proposed in recent legislative sessions is ill-suited to the plethora of business circumstances and employer-employee relationships that exist in today’s Minnesota.
Some of that variation was on display on Oct. 11 at the state chamber’s annual meeting in St. Paul. A panel comprised of leaders of three very different businesses — a large Twin Cities manufacturer, a midsize Minneapolis business consulting firm, and a multistate farm implement dealership based in Owatonna — explained that the paid sick leave rules that are due to go into effect on July 1 in Minneapolis and St. Paul would be burdensome.
Notably, each panelist described an alternative arrangement with their employees that they said better suited the needs and desires of both management and labor than would the time-off rules the cities would impose. That illustrated the point that chamber staffer Cam Winton stressed: Responsible employers should offer some accommodation for their workers’ need for time off for reasons of health and safety — regardless of what government says.
“We believe as a chamber that all Minnesota employees should have the time and resources they need to take care of themselves and care for their families,” Winton said. “If we as a business community want to avoid mandates and have the flexibility that’s so essential to our business success, we need to be willing to say that businesses should really look hard at providing something so that everybody has at least some ability to step away from work.”
That message deserves emphasis. As a separate panel at the Oct. 11 meeting noted, a worker shortage is increasingly pinching Minnesota business growth. Nearly three-fourths of chamber members contacted by the chamber’s Grow Minnesota program last year reported trouble filling positions last year. Attracting and retaining workers in a tight labor market will require work rules that accommodate employees’ legitimate needs to attend to their own well-being and that of their families.
Business organizations have good reason to resist inflexible paid sick-leave mandates. But the message sent at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting ought not be lost as they take that case to the Legislature and the courts. Employers ought to hear from their peers as well as from politicians that accommodating their employees’ human needs is the right and responsible thing to do.