The state Senate voted Thursday to overturn new paid sick-leave requirements in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and to block all Minnesota cities from raising the minimum wage or enacting other workplace rules.
The House passed a similar measure last month, as Republican majorities in both chambers push back against a growing list of local labor ordinances they say could hurt businesses and the state’s economy. The Senate passed the measure by a vote of 35-31, with just one DFL senator joining every Republican member in supporting it.
“As you can imagine, a patchwork of inconsistent labor standards from city to city and county to county, or both cities and counties, would be extremely confusing and a significant burden on Minnesota businesses, and especially small businesses,” said Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, the bill’s chief author.
DFL lawmakers, and a group of protesters who turned up at the Capitol for Thursday’s vote, say the measures are a move to strip decisionmaking authority from local government leaders — and the constituents they represent.
“What this should say is that this is the ‘Uniform Take Away the Voice of the People Act,’ ” said Sen. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, taking issue with the title Republicans gave their measure: the “Uniform Labor Standards Act.”
The only DFLer to vote for the measure was Sen. Dan Sparks of Austin.
So far, Minneapolis and St. Paul are the only cities to mandate that businesses provide paid sick leave to their workers, though the city of Duluth is exploring the issue. Minneapolis elected officials are planning to take up a $15 minimum wage ordinance later this spring. The statewide minimum wage is $9.50 an hour for employers with annual gross sales or business of $500,000 or more, and $7.75 for businesses under that. There’s also a built-in yearly adjustment for inflation.
With Thursday’s approval by the Senate, lawmakers from both chambers will meet in conference committee to settle on a final version to send to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. He said Thursday that he has “very significant concerns” about Republican efforts to limit the power of cities, especially on raising wages.
During the Senate’s floor debate, which lasted several hours, Republican Sen. David Osmek of Mound argued that it’s not about undermining the authority of city leaders. Instead, he said, it’s meant to stop cities from threatening the right of private businesses to decide how much to pay workers or whether or not to provide benefits.
“The most local control is what a business decides to do,” Osmek said to DFL lawmakers. “What you and others are advocating is to override the local control of the business.”
Republicans said they are particularly concerned that ordinances like the Minneapolis sick-leave mandate would require businesses based outside the city to comply with the new rules if they have workers in Minneapolis.
DFLers chided Republicans for bucking their party’s typical position in support of government decisions being made at the local level. Senators from Minneapolis and St. Paul described the lengthy processes that elected leaders in both cities went through before passing sick-leave ordinances, including months of public meetings and citizen work groups. Simonson said it was unfair for the Legislature to vote to stop local ordinances without doing the kind of substantial research on the topic that cities have undertaken in recent years.
Sen. Matt Little, DFL-Lakeville, a former mayor, said Minnesota government sets minimum standards for workplace protections and benefits, and shouldn’t get in the way of cities that want to do more. State lawmakers might not understand the needs of specific communities, he said.
“Every time, every step you take away from local governments, you are decreasing the power citizens have to make positive changes in their daily lives,” Little said.
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, a top campaign supporter of Republicans in the Legislature, emerged as a leading advocate for the measure.
“We do not believe government at any level should dictate private-sector employee benefits,” Chamber President Doug Loon said in a statement.
Dayton said Thursday that he’s concerned that the Legislature’s votes on the issue could lock in low wages across the state. Dayton said he believes a minimum wage should be high enough to allow a full-time worker to reach the poverty line, which would amount to about $12.50 per hour.
“That’s a huge public policy and financial decision that’s being made and then imposed, and will be very hard to change,” he said.