The Minnesota House took a first step Thursday toward repealing sick-leave ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and blocking all Minnesota cities from raising wages or mandating workplace benefits for their residents.
The 76-53 vote followed more than four hours of floor speeches, most of them from DFLers decrying the bill as an attempt to strip local control from cities and place the concerns of businesses over those of workers. Those arguments failed to sway Republicans, who said a patchwork of labor regulations around the state will make it harder and costlier to do business in Minnesota. All GOP lawmakers present for the debate voted in support of the bill, along with two DFLers.
The bill, proposed by Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, garnered support from some of the state’s most powerful business organizations and some business owners. Workers, labor and faith groups, many of whom advocated for the sick leave ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul, organized against the bill. Many of those opponents turned out at committee hearings and at Thursday’s session.
Lawmakers from both sides argued Thursday that the bill’s passage — or failure — would harm the state’s economy and its residents. Garofalo said his bill codifies a practice that’s gone on for decades: the state, rather than cities, setting labor rules in order to make them consistent. “If businesses don’t know the rules they’re going to be operating under, they’re not going to grow in Minnesota, they’re not going to add jobs in Minnesota,” he said.
DFLers, meanwhile, said they are listening to a growing chorus from workers who earn low wages, don’t have sick leave, and have turned to their cities for help. Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, said GOP supporters of the bill were making an abrupt turn from their typical stance on local control, and valuing the needs of businesses above those of workers.
“I can’t believe the Republicans are doing this,” she said. “You strive [for] and live on local governance … why are we silencing the voices of local control now?”
Much of the floor debate Thursday evening echoed testimony offered in lengthy and well-attended committee hearings on the bill last month. Before the House went into session Thursday, opponents of the bill held a news conference and demonstrated outside of the House chamber. About 200 people carried signs and chanted, though the crowd dwindled when House members recessed for more than two hours.
In a news conference, workers, advocates and a few DFLers called the bill an attempt to stifle local democracy. Several said sick leave and minimum-wage changes in Minneapolis and St. Paul are aimed at helping people of color, and that the pre-emption bill would exacerbate existing racial disparities.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce on Thursday sent a letter to each member of the House, offering support for the bill. Chamber President Douglas Loon urged lawmakers to act on the “troubling new trend” of workplace mandates passed by Minnesota cities. He said requirements about wages and benefits could drive businesses’ costs up and force them to lay off workers or cut benefits.
Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood said he agreed with DFLers that workers often face an uphill battle to get ahead, but not with the idea that cities should step in.
“People are working harder and harder, they’re getting less and less, and that is a problem,” he said. “But when we look to cities and city councils and their political aspirations, they’re not going to solve that problem.”
During the debate, DFL lawmakers offered — then withdrew — a few amendments proposing statewide sick leave, family leave and other workplace benefits and protections.
Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said his colleagues were trying to draw attention to economic and racial disparities in the state that could be reduced with broader workplace mandates.
“The reason that we’re offering these amendments tonight is because our workplace in Minnesota is not working for many, many Minnesotans,” he said.
So far, Minneapolis and St. Paul are the only cities in the state to pass sick-leave mandates for businesses.
Both cities’ ordinances are set to go into effect July 1. In Duluth, the city has formed a task force to look into a potential sick-leave ordinance.
Minneapolis, meanwhile, is holding community meetings on a proposal to raise the minimum wage. Mayor Betsy Hodges says passing a higher wage — perhaps up to $15 per hour — is a priority this year.
Senate committees have approved a companion to the House bill, but it has not yet had a full vote. If the GOP-majority Senate also approves the measure, it will still face a formidable hurdle in DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who has said the bill is driven by businesses to keep wages down in the state’s two largest cities.