Efforts in Minneapolis to raise wages, require businesses to provide sick leave and combat wage theft are helping to drive the quest for reforms at the federal level, according to two members of Congress.
In a forum Tuesday at Richfield City Hall, Minnesota’s U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison and U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said they are trying to pass a package of bills they’re calling the Working Families Agenda.
The agenda has 119 Democratic supporters, but Ellison and Scott acknowledge that they face an uphill battle in a Republican-majority Congress.
In the meantime, the legislators said they are looking to cities such as Minneapolis, where the mayor, some City Council members, and a variety of workers’ groups have championed reforms on scheduling, sick leave and wage theft.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to do something on a federal basis, but it’s great that cities are taking the lead on it,” Scott said. “Because it gives those on the federal level an idea of how these ideas actually work in practice. When cities do it and are successful about it, it kind of limits the resistance.”
Ellison and Scott took comments from a panel of six people who support the effort, including representatives from labor and workers’ groups, a gender-equality organization and one Minneapolis business. All said they support local and national efforts on issues ranging from the minimum wage to universal family leave policies and paid sick time.
Minneapolis’ own Working Families Agenda, introduced last fall, included proposals for scheduling and sick-leave regulations, along with increased scrutiny of businesses that commit wage theft by failing to pay workers due wages. The scheduling proposal was tabled following a wave of pushback from business owners, and the sick-leave issue was turned over to a new working group for additional study.
Similar measures introduced at the state level have so far not led to changes.
But panelists told the congressmen that they remain hopeful that workplace ordinances will be passed in Minneapolis and beyond.
Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou, president of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, said the recent jump in interest — and organization — around reforming workplace protections and benefits is a sign of changes to come.
“The reason I’m optimistic is because of the brave workers who are putting themselves out there on these issues,” she said.
Ron Harris, an organizer with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, said several businesses in the city have already begun changing their policies because of public discussions on sick leave and scheduling.
The event was attended by about 40 people, including state Rep. Raymond Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, and Minneapolis City Council Members Elizabeth Glidden and Lisa Bender.
Glidden asked Ellison and Scott for continued help on the city’s efforts. She said the debates over scheduling in Minneapolis demonstrated that advocates need to do more to explain why workers need reforms.
“These are national issues where we are stuck in our inability to make progress either at the state level or sometimes at the federal level,” she said.