The fight to raise the minimum wage came to the State Fair on Tuesday, as labor groups and faith leaders urged fairgoers to press lawmakers to raise the state’s base wage to $9.50 an hour.
The federal $7.25 minimum hourly wage, “is not enough,” said Shar Knutson, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO. “It is simply wrong to pay poverty wages to someone who works hard for 40 hours a week or even more."
Gov. Mark Dayton swung by the event at the sweltering AFL-CIO pavilion and said all workers should be paid a living wage so they can support their families and have an honest shot at the American dream. He said a lower minimum wage forces more working people onto public assistance.
“I believe the minimum wage should be at a level so that someone working full-time can support a family of four above the poverty level and get more skills and more experience,” Dayton said. “If we are underpaying people, we the taxpayers are making up the difference.”
Business groups, particularly in the grocery and retail industry, have fought hard against higher minimum wages. They argue that a higher minimum wage will boost prices and force them to operate with fewer workers, hindering their competitiveness. The argument is particularly intense in border communities, where companies are competing against businesses in neighbor states where taxes can regulations can be less.
Despite widespread pressure from labor groups, the DFL-controlled Legislature was not able to agree to a minimum wage increase during the last legislative session. Senate Democratic leaders said they could not approve the $9.50 an hour by 2015 that House DFLers sought, in part due to concerns about border communities. The Senate’s final proposal included a gradual increase to $7.75.
State Rep. Ryan Winkler, a lead advocate for a higher minimum wage in the state House, the issue proved more politically vexing than advocates were prepared for during the last session.
The Golden Valley DFLer said he expected more conversations with Senate Democrats in coming months and hopefully a breakthrough in the upcoming legislative session.
Minnesota’s minimum hourly wage is actually $6.15 for large employers, but most employers are required to meet the federal minimum wage. About 93,000 Minnesotans earn at or below the federal minimum wage.