Minneapolis City Council members grew used to days filled with e-mails, phone calls and meetings about the $15 minimum wage.
But the day before the vote on the issue, city leaders were struck by the quiet as they finalized the last details of an ordinance years in the making and prepared to move forward with a policy that will take nearly a decade to carry out and change the lives of workers and business owners.
“There’s kind of a relief. From my standpoint, there’s a little bit of nervousness,” said Council Member Cam Gordon, one of the earliest proponents of the wage increase. “I think there’s this recognition that we are stepping into a little bit of new territory.”
A council committee passed a preliminary version of the wage ordinance Wednesday, and the full council is expected to approve it Friday.
The move will add Minneapolis to a list of cities nationwide, including Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., that have passed similar measures in recent years. Because none of those cities has fully phased in the $15 wage, it’s tough to predict the effect it will have here.
The timeline for implementing the $15 minimum wage in Minneapolis has been the biggest point of discussion over the past several months — even before council members introduced a preliminary version of the ordinance June 6, said Council Member Lisa Bender.
“I think we did our best to address as many concerns as we could, and get the most workers to $15 as we could, and still balance the needs of businesses,” she said.
The proposed ordinance gives large businesses — those with more than 100 employees — until July 1, 2022, to start paying employees $15 an hour, and small businesses will have until July 1, 2024. Those details are unlikely to change, but debate was ongoing Thursday about exemptions for certain businesses and workers.
Even though the clamor had died down, stakeholders were still pushing for last-minute changes Thursday.
Several council members said they’d heard from constituents about an ordinance amendment, proposed by Council President Barb Johnson, that would define residential care facilities as small businesses. The idea is to give facilities that rely on Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements more time to adjust to the wage increase, but it’s gotten pushback both inside and outside City Hall.
On Thursday morning, a union representing health care workers put out a news release saying that “care workers expressed disappointment at this move, which means workers at big corporate chains get to $15 before people who make sure our loved ones receive quality care.”
Johnson said Thursday afternoon that she was working on some changes to the amendment. But she said she expects further discussion of the wage issue — particularly if the ordinance faces legal challenges.
“I think we’re going to find out that we’re going to have to do a lot of little tweaks to this ordinance, I really do,” Johnson said.
Already, council members have decided to take an extra three months to discuss the details of a proposed training wage, which would potentially allow businesses to pay less than $15 to young workers in training positions.
Major changes unlikely
Both workers and members of the business community said after the committee vote Wednesday that they planned to continue lobbying for specific changes to the ordinance. Restaurant owners and tipped employees, in particular, plan to keep pushing for a “tip credit” counting tips toward the $15 minimum — a controversial issue that didn’t come up at Wednesday’s committee meeting.
“Inevitably, there will be a push to change aspects around the edges, from many different sides,” said Council Member Jacob Frey. “Recognizing that everyone will not be entirely happy probably points to a solid policy.”
But council members said Thursday there likely wouldn’t be fundamental changes to the ordinance going forward.
Council Member Blong Yang, the only one to vote against the ordinance at the committee meeting, said it’s been clear for a while that Minneapolis will have a $15 minimum wage. The relative quiet Thursday was likely a sign that stakeholders knew the fight had largely come to an end, he said.
“People know how to read the tea leaves,” Yang said, “and the tea leaves have been read for months and months.”