Groups pushing Minneapolis to adopt a $15 minimum wage and require police to carry insurance say they are readying lawsuits against the city after the City Council moved Wednesday to block the two issues from going to voters in November.
In a contentious committee meeting that ran three hours-plus, council members considered a single question: Did the two proposals meet the legal requirements to put them on the ballot as amendments to the city’s charter? While backers of both proposals had secured the required number of petition signatures to bring the matters forward, City Attorney Susan Segal said neither plan met the narrow requirements for a citywide vote.
A majority of council members — including several who called themselves strong supporters of a higher minimum wage — agreed with Segal, eventually voting 10-2 to reject the wage ordinance charter amendment and 9-1 to stop the police insurance plan from going to voters. But many in the packed crowd of $15 minimum-wage supporters, carrying signs and led by organizers carrying bullhorns, said they weren’t interested in legal arguments. Several council members were shouted down as they attempted to explain their votes and sustained protests that at one point caused the council to go into a 20-minute recess.
Later, the council voted to direct city staff members to begin the process of drafting a minimum wage ordinance, which would be considered by the council in the first half of 2017. Council members who supported that plan said they recognize the needs of low-wage workers. They said they also want time to work with small businesses, particularly because a wage increase would come on the heels of the city’s newly approved paid sick-leave ordinance. But wage-hike advocates — who yelled that council members were “sellouts,” “limousine liberals” and “liars” who should be ashamed of their votes — said the approved plan wasn’t specific enough. Following the council vote, many supporters walked out.
After the meeting, the group 15 Now released a statement saying it would file a lawsuit if the council voted again to block a minimum-wage vote at its meeting on Friday, the last step in the council’s consideration of the charter amendment proposal.
“Agreeing to more discussion does not concretely address the needs of over 100,000 Minneapolis workers who would benefit from $15 an hour,” said Ginger Jentzen, the group’s executive director.
Council members who sided with Segal’s legal opinion said they found themselves in a tough spot. While they might agree with a higher minimum wage, or even with $15, some said they believed a charter amendment would not be legal, and that governing by referendum could pose bigger problems for the city.
Minnesota just raised its minimum wage to $9.50 for large employers after a heated debate at the Capitol, where business groups pushed back hard against raising the base wage any higher. So activists have pushed their case at the local level, where business groups often wield less political muscle.
Council Member Jacob Frey said voters elect council members to navigate the complexities of policies — and that he had done just that.
“True leadership at times is taking a nuanced position that is hated by both sides,” he said of his vote to block the wage charter amendment.
Council Member Abdi Warsame said he also supports a higher minimum wage, but wants to make sure the city was also looking out for small businesses, like those in his central Minneapolis ward. He and Council Member Andrew Johnson noticed that the city’s lengthy, deliberate process of developing a sick-leave ordinance allowed it to eventually be embraced by more residents and officials. That ordinance eventually passed unanimously.
The issue of the minimum wage is “something the council needs to work on,” Johnson said.
Two council members, Alondra Cano and Cam Gordon, disagreed, saying they were convinced the city does have the legal standing to put minimum wage on the ballot.
“As a woman, with three children, coming from a household of a mother who also had three children, recognizing right now that 27 percent of the women living in Minneapolis are living in poverty — how dare we not let those women vote?” she said to applause.
Cano also cast the lone vote of support for the police insurance amendment, saying the city needs to overhaul its laws around policing and hold officers more accountable for their actions. The plan would have asked voters to amend the charter to require police officers to carry professional liability insurance.
After little discussion, however, nine council members voted to block the proposal, which Segal had said conflicted with state law. Johnson abstained from the vote, saying he wanted more time to review the issue, and Gordon and Council Member Lisa Goodman were absent for the vote.
After the council’s vote, several supporters with the Committee for Professional Policing — including one man who was eventually escorted out by security officers — shouted at council members. Some said the council didn’t care about police brutality, about racial disparities or about reforming the justice system.
“See you in court,” some chanted on the way out the door.