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Minnesota minimum wage hits roadblock in Legislature

  • Article by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
  • Star Tribune
  • May 16, 2013 - 10:00 PM

 

Low-wage workers hoping for a boost in the minimum wage may be out of luck.

After meeting with Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday morning, DFL legislative leaders emerged saying they simply could not bridge their differences on how much the wage floor should rise. The House wants to hike the state’s minimum wage from $6.15 an hour, one of the country’s lowest, to $9.50 an hour, which would be one of the nation’s highest. The Senate wants to raise the minimum wage to $7.75 an hour.

“It seems it’s unlikely we are going to get a bill there,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said Thursday.

The surprising lack of movement on the issue dashes what had been a priority for many DFL legislators and their allies. With great fanfare earlier this year, Democratic lawmakers said they intended to lift the state’s minimum wage, which has lagged behind the federal standard for years.

Lawmakers see a minimum-wage increase as a rare event and if they are to pass one, they want to make it lasting.

“If we’re going to do it, we’re going to make sure we are going to have a strong minimum wage and so that’s where we are,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. The Senate version would raise the state minimum 50 cents higher than the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.

Bob Hume, Dayton’s deputy chief of staff, said the governor still hopes the House and Senate can reach agreement. Dayton supports an hourly minimum between $9 and $9.50.

Unions and other groups far prefer the higher House minimum and had initially called for a $10.55 minimum wage. Members of Working America, a coalition of union and other groups, have sent more than 1,500 e-mails, 2,000 letters and engaged in 13,000 face-to-face conversations on a wage hike.

“Frankly, it’s surprising that an issue so popular with Minnesotans has essentially stalled this session,” Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson said.

Thissen said the lack of movement is “totally unfortunate.”

“We passed a very strong bill that we think serves working Minnesotans very well, and we think the minimum wage should be near our number,” he said. “For whatever reason, the Senate doesn’t think it can get there.”

As many as 350,000 Minnesotans would have seen a pay hike by 2015 if the House measure became law. About 93,000 Minnesotans earn $7.25 an hour or less. Smaller businesses are allowed to pay the state minimum rather than the federal minimum.

But the Senate leader said proposals approaching the House level have no chance.

“The votes just are not there in the Senate to go that high,” Bakk said.

Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said he is not quite ready to believe that.

“I’m pretty confident that the Senate majority leader can get the vote for a minimum wage bill if he wants to,” said Winkler, who shepherded the $9.50-an-hour wage bill through the House with Thissen’s backing.

Winkler noted that Bakk managed to wrangle a majority of votes out of his caucus to raise legislator pay and to approve a controversial plan to allow unionization of child-care and personal-care workers. If the Senate can take on those issues, Winkler said, they can raise the pay for hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans.

Said Winkler: “Anything can happen, and usually does at the last minute.”

 

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @rachelsb

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