DFL legislators on Monday night neared a breakthrough in a yearlong deadlock on raising Minnesota’s minimum wage from one of the nation’s lowest to one of its highest.
If they can work through some unresolved details, the state’s minimum wage would leap from $6.15 an hour to $9.50 an hour.
The move toward a $9.50-an-hour wage floor marks a significant victory for advocates who have been campaigning for months to get the DFL-controlled Legislature to back a major jump in the minimum wage.
On Monday, Senate negotiators said they now support finding a compromise to raise the minimum to $9.50. Last year, the Senate backed only a more modest increase, while the House and Gov. Mark Dayton supported the higher level.
“This is the crux of the bill,” said Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, a veteran legislator and Senate negotiator on the issue.
Still, the deal is not done. On Monday night, House negotiators rejected the Senate’s proposed hike because it included only the wage for big businesses and not other key parts of the measure.
“I just don’t think we can take it piece by piece,” said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. “Usually every concession has a price,” he told his fellow legislators on why he didn’t fall in with the Senate proposal.
Working out details
Among issues still to be worked out: whether the minimum wage should automatically go up with inflation, if employers should be allowed to pay young workers less than the minimum, and over how many years the new wage should be phased in.
Senators, who have spent months enduring pressure from traditional DFL allies to back a large wage hike, said their move to support a $9.50-an-hour wage for most employers took significant work.
“I don’t understand why you can’t support your own language,” Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, told Winkler.
Leaving the committee after talks broke down late Monday, Eaton said she was “shocked” that the House refused to go along with the Senate’s move toward $9.50. Senate negotiators had said they would support phasing in the wage increase over three years.
Last year, DFL lawmakers shocked many backers when, despite newly installed Democratic control of the House, Senate and the governor’s office, Minnesota left the minimum wage at $6.15 for most employers. At that rate, Minnesota’s state wage floor is below the federal minimum of $7.25, so most employers must pay the federal level.
Despite the tension between House and Senate negotiators, most believe the Legislature will pass a minimum-wage increase this year. The leaders of the House and Senate and the governor said boosting the wage for the lowest-paid workers is a top priority.
With the Senate’s agreement to increase the wage to $9.50 on Monday, it is increasingly clear that the session will end with a hike, phased in over time, to $9.50 an hour. The Senate proposal would hike the minimum to $8 an hour starting in August, $9 an hour by next year and $9.50 an hour in 2016 for large employers.
More than a dozen states currently have minimum wages at or above $8 an hour, according to federal Department of Labor records.
According to state figures, at least 70,000 Minnesotans earn $7.25, the federal minimum, or less an hour. If the minimum wage increased to $9.50 an hour, about 350,000 working Minnesotans would get a raise.
Benefits and costs
A recent Star Tribune poll found that Minnesotans overwhelmingly support raising the minimum wage but are split on how much of an increase they would like to see.
For advocates, raising the minimum wage simply makes sense.
“We meet many people in our ministry … whose lives would be greatly enhanced by an increase in the minimum wage,” the Rev. Eliot Howard, pastor of United Church in Christ in Minneapolis, told lawmakers last week.
But for others, raising the minimum wage to $9.50 without significant allowances would put some businesses out of business, force others to raise prices and would cause employers to hirer fewer workers.
“This increase is going to cost us roughly $60,000 to $70,000 a year per year, per location,” Mike Jennings, a suburban restaurant owner, testified to legislators. “Many prices are going to have to go up.”