Cossetta Italian Market and Pizzeria owner Dave Cossetta wants help from the city for his $10 million expansion project, but he doesn't want to abide by the city requirement that he pay all his workers more than $10.16 an hour.
After a public hearing Wednesday, the city's Housing and Redevelopment Authority is expected to vote on a $1.6 million loan for Cossetta and a waiver to the city's living-wage policy. The city requires businesses receiving $100,000 or more in a subsidy to pay workers a living wage, currently defined as $10.16 an hour.
Cossetta meets the requirement for many of his full-time employees, but not for the part-timers. The 100-year-old W. 7th Street market is growing, taking over the parking lot on the corner, doubling the restaurant's seating area, tripling the size of the food market, expanding and enhancing the menu and adding a rooftop table-service restaurant.
Bernie Hesse, director of special projects for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1189, isn't happy with the proposed exemption from the wage requirement. He said he expects a vote of approval by the authority, which includes the same membership as the City Council.
"They all want to pretend like they're friends of working people and then they do a deal like this," Hesse said.
St. Paul City Hall has seen bruising battles over wages in the past. In 2001, the city granted Target Corp. a living-wage exemption for the remodeling of the downtown department store then called Dayton's.
Council Member Dave Thune represents the ward that includes the Cossetta expansion, which he called "an extremely important development."
Thune said the city understands some businesses need to be exempted from the living-wage requirement, especially for part-time entry-level jobs.
The restaurant's expansion is expected to provide 140 new construction jobs and 100 new full-time equivalent positions by 2015, according to documents submitted to the city by Cossetta.
Spokeswoman Janelle Tummel of the city's Planning and Economic Development agency said she can't release Cossetta's salary information until after the vote. Cossetta said he has several full-time employees. "They not only have health care insurance, but they have a 401(k) match," he said.
Hesse said he thought the $1.6 million could be better spent elsewhere, perhaps to help businesses on University Avenue cope during the construction of the light-rail line. But the federal jobs money likely isn't transferable to other projects, city staff said.
Thune and Pat Harris said they will vote for the exemption. Council President Kathy Lantry and council members Melvin Carter and Dan Bostrom say they haven't decided.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747