Minnesota makes history with largest minimum wage hike

  • Article by: BAIRD HELGESON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 14, 2014 - 10:18 PM

The bill, signed into law Monday, will raise the base wage from $6.15 to $9.50 an hour and give raises to more than 325,000 Minnesotans.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law the largest minimum wage increase in state history Monday, giving raises to more than 325,000 Minnesotans and making good on a signature Democratic pledge during an election year.

The move to a $9.50 base hourly wage catapults the state from one of the lowest minimum wages to one of the highest once it is fully phased in by 2016. The state’s base wage will be tied to inflation starting in 2018, ensuring the buying power of the state’s lowest-paid workers keeps better pace with the cost of living.

“Minnesotans who work full time should be able to earn enough money to lift their families out of poverty, and through hard work and additional training, achieve the middle-class American dream,” the DFL governor said, surrounded by legislators, workers and labor leaders at a ceremonial bill-signing in the State Capitol rotunda. “These are people, good Minnesotans all over the state, who just want to work and get paid something that is fair.”

The sharp wage hike puts Minnesota at the forefront of a major initiative by President Obama, who has failed to persuade Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 and instead is pressing his case state by state. The first wave of increase starts Aug. 1, when Minnesota’s minimum wage rises to $8 per hour.

“I applaud Governor Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature for increasing their state’s minimum wage and giving more hardworking Minnesotans the raise they deserve,” President Obama said in a statement.

The mandatory pay raise has angered some Republicans and business owners who say the higher wage could force them to lay off workers and become a drag on the state’s economic recovery.

“It’s really frustrating for me,” said Joe Harms, an owner of Mississippi Pub, a riverfront bar and restaurant in Inver Grove Heights. “They are ramming it down everybody’s throat. Now I have to look at my expenses and see how many hours I can give out.”

Alleviating financial stresses

Minnesotans who are making the state’s minimum wage say the raise will alleviate some of the financial strain of living on so little.

“I have always been in this struggle to earn a better wage,” said Lucila Dominguez Velasquez, who works in the cleaning industry. “The cost of food, of rent, public transportation have always been going up.”

Rachel Shelton, of New Hope, worked for years at or near the minimum wage.

“Fifty to $100 a month might not seem like a lot to most people, but it helps to pay your food and helps to pay your rent on time,” said Shelton, 49. “It means a lot. It can save you a lot of sleepless nights, because it is always such a struggle.”

The struggle to pass the measure into law created a rift among DFLers who control the House and Senate. Some DFLers from outstate Minnesota worried that tying the minimum wage to inflation could send labor costs spiraling and put a chokehold on already struggling businesses, particularly in border communities.

Democrats eventually brokered a deal under enormous pressure from labor leaders and activists, along with poll after poll showing strong public support for the increase. To appease concerns about runaway wage hikes, Democrats agreed to give state leaders the power to suspend the automatic increases if the economy sours.

“We believe that all Minnesotans deserve the dignity of supporting themselves and their families through hard work,” said state Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, who was a chief negotiator of the minimum wage effort. “Raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation is an important step to create a rising floor for all wages that will benefit hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans who work hard and deserve to get ahead.”

At $6.15 per hour, Minnesota has one of the lowest minimum wages in the nation, lower than neighboring Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota. Minnesota is one of only four states with a minimum wage below the national rate of $7.25 per hour.

State officials estimate that the $9.50 base wage will put an additional $472 million in the pockets of Minnesota’s lowest-wage workers each year. Supporters say the increase in consumer spending is expected to help local businesses in communities across the state, and provide a secondary boost to Minnesota’s economy.

‘Lift up the working poor’

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  • Photo gallery: Minnesota raises minimum wage

    Monday April 14, 2014

    Gov. Dayton signed it into law Monday afternoon.

  • Gov. Mark Dayton high-fived Ashia Rhodes at the public bill signing ceremony Monday at the State Capitol rotunda. She was there with her sister Jada, brother Mario and mother, Jacquita Berens, who works three jobs and will benefit from the minimum wage increase.

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