Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges has taken heat from progressives for resisting a city-mandated higher minimum wage. But that doesn’t mean she’s against better pay. In her second annual State of the City speech this week, Hodges made it plain that improving wages, benefits and conditions for workers are top priorities.
The mayor had sound reasons for opposing proposals to require a $15 minimum wage in Minneapolis, which might put the city at a competitive disadvantage with surrounding communities. But her Working Families Agenda, unveiled Thursday, calls for policies to promote fairer scheduling, proper pay for hours worked, greater access to paid sick days and expansion of private sector unions — especially for lower-income workers. And she provided data about why such issues should matter to all workers, businesses and residents.
In Minneapolis, 42 percent of workers have no earned sick and safe time. A recent Minnesota Department of Health study shows that 79 percent of workers in the food-service sector across Minnesota lack paid sick time and that 3,000 cases of food-borne illnesses in a decade were traced to sick food-service workers. In short, those without paid sick leave are much more likely to go to work when they are ill, endangering public health.
Hodges used her speech to reaffirm her central, guiding principle of promoting equity and inclusion in the work of all city departments. Worker well-being has racial-equity implications, too; Hodges points out, for example, that 63 percent of white workers have sick and safe time, while only 32 percent of Latino workers do.
Meanwhile, the mayor challenged adults to make personal commitments to help city kids succeed by becoming a graduation coach for a Minneapolis public high school student. AchieveMpls, the nonprofit that supports the school district’s work, is training volunteers to help keep students on track to graduate — and to make plans for college or careers. More adult support could go a long way toward narrowing learning disparities between white students and students of color.
And at the other end of the childhood journey, the mayor’s “Cradle to K” group will soon announce its recommendations for getting all city infants and toddlers off to a good learning start.
Hodges took action on a pledge she made in last year’s State of the City speech to change or eliminate regulations that create barriers for people trying to start new enterprises. The mayor announced that she and City Attorney Susan Segal have completed a report on reforming the city’s business rules, including making license-application forms shorter and providing customer-service training to some city staff. This too has an equity element, as a more welcoming, streamlined process will help more women-, immigrant- and minority-owned small businesses open shop.
Hodges’ call for all residents to get involved and use their “gifts’’ for equity and city building intriguingly blends idealism and pragmatism. Here’s hoping for a vigorous response.