ST. PAUL, Minn. - Many Minnesota workers would get a pay hike, extra time to spend with newborns and recently adopted children and more overtime pay in the minimum wage bill that is headed to the House floor.
The House Ways and Means Committee approved legislation Monday that would increase Minnesota's floor wage in three steps until it hits $9.50 per hour in 2015. After that, it would increase automatically according to inflation. The measure also doubles the time new parents can take unpaid leave — from six to 12 weeks — and lowers the threshold at which most employers need to start paying overtime, from 48 hours to 40.
Republicans on the committee fought against those changes, which they said were not thoroughly vetted after being added over the weekend.
Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said the parental leave and overtime revisions would change "the minimum wage bill to a workplace reform bill that will make it tough on small business. They don't have the flexibility to handle workload changes."
The bill is expected to come up for a full House floor vote by Friday. With Democrats in control of state government, some raise to the state's minimum wage has a good chance of becoming law this session.
Minnesota last raised its minimum wage in 2005. At $6.15 an hour, it's one of just four states with a lower wage than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour, though most state workers receive the federal wage.
The House Democrat leading the push for the hike said time to tether the state's minimum wage to inflation so that another eight years don't pass before the next increase.
"By creating an inflationary adjustment, we're actually giving business a much more predictable, smooth path," said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley.
Winkler had previously proposed increasing the wage to $10.55 per hour by 2015. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has said he supports an increase to between $9 and $9.50 an hour. State senators are considering a much smaller increase — up to $7.50.
One of Minnesota's largest labor groups went to the Capitol on Monday to press lawmakers to support the increase.
"We can't have consumers if consumers don't have money in their pockets," Steve Hunter, secretary and treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, said at a news conference.
Republicans and business lobbyists said even the reduced increase would harm small businesses, resulting in higher prices and layoffs.
Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, called on Winkler to include a provision that the restaurant industry has been pushing for: a "two-tiered" minimum wage that would allow restaurants to pay servers and waiters a lower base wage if they make $12 per hour after tips are factored in.
Without that, McNamara said he fears tipped employees would get a pay hike while busboys and cooks wouldn't see an extra dime.
"It makes no sense. This is backwards," he said.