Paid sick leave went into force in the summer and a municipal minimum wage will start to take effect in January, but the city of Minneapolis has so far invested little toward enforcing the sweeping new rules.
The city's Labor Standards Enforcement Division consists of two investigators tasked with explaining and enforcing the ordinances. The proposed 2018 budget, which the City Council will work through on Dec. 1, doesn't include enough money for a third worker.
This could be a problem, said Velma Korbel, director of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department, as the municipal minimum wage kicks in next year and a 12-month grace period for the sick-leave rule ends.
"The first time we get one of these major cases where we have to go in and review lots of payroll records and interview lots of people, my fear is that type of investigation could take weeks, perhaps months," Korbel said. "I just don't want to put us in a position where we get behind, because people are counting on us to ensure that they are made whole."
The paid sick-leave ordinance, which requires that employers award workers one hour of leave for every 30 hours on the job, became law in July. For the first year, the city is handling reported violations — 60 so far — by mediating disputes and issuing warnings.
But by July, sick-leave violations will be punishable by fines. Also, the municipal minimum wage steps up for large businesses on Jan. 1 and for all businesses on July 1.
Mayor Betsy Hodges' proposed $1.4 billion budget for 2018 authorizes the division to hire one more person and adds $60,000 to its budget. But a full-time employee would cost about $100,000, including health insurance and other benefits.
At a recent budget meeting, Council Members Elizabeth Glidden and Andrew Johnson pressed city finance staff to explain why the position wasn't fully funded.
"We passed unanimously this minimum wage, and I personally think we have an obligation to ensure we're properly enforcing it," Glidden said.
The enforcement division, created in 2016 after the sick-leave ordinance passed, has a budget of less than $200,000 and two staffers — a supervisor and an attorney who each conduct investigations. Korbel is also paying one administrative assistant by borrowing from other divisions within the Civil Rights Department.
Budget Director Micah Intermill told council members the additional $60,000 in the division's 2018 budget could be used for public campaigns to explain the ordinance, or to help pay for another investigator, to which Korbel responded, "there's not money laying around the Civil Rights Department for us to just find."
Eric Fought, a spokesman for Hodges, said the budget is tight, and "this level of funding strikes the appropriate balance in investment in this function, funding other core city services, and maintaining the property tax levy."
City departments requested $14.6 million from Hodges in new, ongoing funding for 2018, Fought said. Based on the property tax levy and other constraints, she had $5.1 million to spread around, even after making $2.6 million in cuts elsewhere. The city also has a shortage of health inspectors, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommendations.
Korbel asked the mayor's office for two more staffers in 2018 — which would have brought the authorized head count to four. She expects the need for investigators to rise next year as the minimum wage ordinance takes effect.
Seattle, which is larger than Minneapolis and has more labor ordinances, has a 23-person Office of Labor Standards with a $5.7 million budget, and granted $3.2 million over two years to community organizations that help low-wage workers understand the rules and connect with investigators.
Veronica Mendez Moore, co-president of the workers' center Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL) in Minneapolis, said they are lobbying for the budget to fund five investigators and $500,000 in grants for organizations, like CTUL, that are connected to the low-wage workers.
"In order to actually make this real, particularly for poor people and people of color, there has to be robust enforcement," she said.