Earlier this year, Mayor Betsy Hodges wisely stepped back from efforts to impose a job-killing $15 minimum wage in Minneapolis, saying she didn’t want the city to become an island surrounded by more business-friendly communities.
That good judgment makes Hodges’ support for the sweeping “Working Families Agenda” all the more puzzling. Initially, the ill-conceived, fast-tracked proposal would have regulated the schedules and benefits for hourly workers at the thousands of small, medium and large businesses in Minneapolis. It may not have amounted to a full-scale government takeover of the private sector, but it would have come disturbingly close.
The agenda (and no government policy proposal we’ve seen in recent years is more deserving of the label “agenda”) appeared rooted in the belief that workers in Minneapolis are routinely exploited by their employers, no doubt because the proposal’s biggest champions are union and political activists.
Facing a growing backlash from all segments of the business community, Hodges retreated from one especially onerous part of that plan on Wednesday, saying she would not try to push through the scheduling provisions this year but would instead focus on “less complicated” sick-time measures. In a meeting with the Star Tribune Editorial Board, Hodges acknowledged the pushback on scheduling but said the door remains open for future regulation.
The first-term mayor would have inspired more confidence in her leadership of the state’s largest and most economically important city if she had buried the scheduling agenda for good and tabled the sick-time proposal pending extensive study and substantial input from workers and employers.
The initial proposal would have required that workers receive schedules 28 days in advance, although Hodges and City Council Members Elizabeth Glidden and Lisa Bender had already backtracked to 14 days before Wednesday’s announcement. In addition, employers would have had to provide one hour of “predictability pay” for schedule changes and four hours of pay for any shifts canceled or changed with less than a 24-hour notice. Understandably, the fiercest opposition came from businesses with unpredictable customer demand because of factors such as weather, but a stunning range of companies would have dealt with excessive regulatory complexity and business-threatening costs.
Council Member Jacob Frey, a voice of reason in City Hall, said even funeral homes and yoga studios were among the businesses that registered complaints with his office. Council President Barb Johnson and Council Member Lisa Goodman, who wisely joined Frey in voicing concerns about the ordinance, noted that they also heard from workers who embrace flexible scheduling.
With those provisions tabled, the focus now turns to sick time. Workers at all Minneapolis businesses (except those in which union contracts include a negotiated exemption) would earn a minimum of one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. Workers at businesses with up to 20 employees could earn up to 40 hours per year, and those working for larger firms could earn 72 hours annually.
An aide to Hodges emphasized that the policy remains fluid, and Hodges told the Editorial Board that the city is still studying best practices and laws and ordinances in other states and cities. She also pointed to a state Health Department analysis that concluded that sick workers pose a public-health threat and that low-income Minnesotans are less likely to have sick-leave benefits.
We’ll reserve final judgment on the sick-leave policy until more specifics are available, but there’s no reason to rush development of such a far-reaching proposal.
This page shares the mayor’s concern about income and health disparities not only in Minneapolis, but throughout the metro area and beyond. We endorsed her mayoral candidacy in 2013 and praised her focus on inequality in her State of the City Address in April. But at some point in drafting the Working Families proposal this summer, the agenda was hijacked by a few council members, city staffers and activists who do not seem to grasp that adding significant mandated costs to businesses stifles growth and leads to fewer jobs.
The city should be working to help low-income workers get the education and skills necessary to compete for full-time jobs and, as Hodges puts it, “lift themselves into prosperity and the middle class.” Hodges and the council should be doing everything possible to support the Minneapolis Public Schools in addressing the achievement gap and poor high school graduation rates. It should expand the successful STEP-UP internship program for young people.
An equity agenda based on regulatory overreach would only make Minneapolis an anti-business island and one of the most expensive cities in the country in which to operate a business. If Hodges wants to build broad support for her priorities, this kind of naive economic bullying is the wrong path.