Minnesotans are now fortunate to have some of the nation’s strongest protections against wage theft. With bipartisan support, this year the Legislature passed and Gov. Tim Walz signed a law that helps employees receive the pay they earned. Employers who try to cheat workers could be charged and prosecuted with a felony.
Most provisions of the new law went into effect July 1, while those that call for criminal sanctions applied as of Aug. 1. The law was needed because wage theft costs Minnesota workers an estimated $12 million a year.
Even with a solid state statute in place, Minneapolis officials are poised to approve an ordinance with additional wage theft provisions. Some of those extra regulations aren’t necessary. As several business organizations have rightly noted, the state law should be given a chance to work before the city adds additional regulations.
Council members who wrote the ordinance say more than 90% of it simply mirrors and helps enforce the state law. They say that a city-specific policy is also needed because wage theft is so widespread in Minneapolis, especially for workers of color. The U.S. Labor Department reported that between 2005-2014, Minneapolis workers lost $2.7 million in unpaid wages.
Those parts of the proposed city rules that line up with state law should be adopted. And ordinance adjustments needed due to the city’s sick- and safe-time rules are justified. But other portions of the Minneapolis proposal should be skipped or put on hold.
For example, the city proposal says that if an employee files a wage-theft claim against an employer and is fired within 90 days, the employer must prove that the termination was not an act of retaliation. But there are already provisions in state law that prohibit retaliation.
In a letter to city officials, a coalition of business groups said wage theft is “an abomination.” But the groups believe Minneapolis employers are still learning how to implement the state law and that added rules would make it more difficult for them to adapt.
As the Star Tribune Editorial Board has written previously, we’re not fans of municipalities adopting their own wage and benefit rules. We’ve argued that one-size-fits-all sick pay regulations such as those enacted in Minneapolis and St. Paul don’t account for the flexibility employers and employees need to fairly accommodate various jobs and new models of business operations.
And when cities act separately, employers that operate in multiple cities must deal with a patchwork of sometimes conflicting rules. That can cause them to move their bases of operations — and jobs.
A Minneapolis council committee approved the additional wage theft measures last week, and the City Council could act this week. If approved, the new rules would go into effect Jan. 1.
Minneapolis officials should slow down, listen more closely to the concerns of mostly honest employers in the city and reconsider adding more rules on top of an already robust set of state wage-theft regulations and penalties.