A day after a Hennepin County judge ordered the city of Minneapolis to let voters decide if the city should raise its minimum wage to $15, advocates celebrated their victory — and turned their attention toward what could become a contentious campaign.
Supporters from the groups 15 Now Minnesota, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change gathered Tuesday morning outside of a Wendy’s restaurant on W. Broadway in north Minneapolis. They chanted — “What do we want? Fifteen! When do we want it? Now!” — and said that months of organizing by low-wage workers and community groups looked to be paying off. With about 11 weeks to go until Election Day, they said they were prepared to convince voters that Minneapolis’ minimum wage should be among the highest in the country.
Meanwhile, city officials on Tuesday appealed the judge’s decision — and submitted a request to the Minnesota Supreme Court to have the case heard there, saving time by bypassing the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The deadline for the city to submit items to the county for the November election is Aug. 26, which means little time remains for the case to be heard by higher courts.
Leaders of some of the state’s largest business organizations said they were supportive of an appeal — and are trying to calm owners of small and large businesses alike who are worried about the impact of a considerable wage increase.
At the news conference, Rod Adams, an organizer with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, gestured toward the fast-food restaurant behind him and then pointed to the downtown skyline, a few miles away. He said the judge’s ruling had given voters a chance to take a stand on economic and racial disparities by raising wages.
“What we’re asking for is for folks in these buildings to get treated the same as folks in those buildings downtown,” he said.
Supporters said they plan to formally launch their campaign in early September, gathering volunteers at the Neighborhoods Organizing for Change headquarters on West Broadway and assigning people to knock on doors and make phone calls. They said it would build on the work they’ve already been doing for months, as they gathered about 18,000 signatures in an effort to get the issue on the ballot as a charter amendment. A total of 8,418 of those signatures were deemed valid, enough to move the process forward.
Council members, after receiving a legal opinion from City Attorney Susan Segal, voted to stop the proposal from going to voters. Segal had said the issue did not amount to a proper amendment of the city’s charter, which outlines the broad functions of municipal government. But after the wage advocates took their case to court, a judge ruled that the issue should go to voters.
The state’s minimum wage is now $9.50 for large businesses and $7.75 for small businesses and workers under 18. The proposal set to end up on Minneapolis ballots would raise the city’s minimum wage to $10 per hour in 2017. Wages would then rise incrementally to $15 per hour by 2020 for businesses with 500 or more employees and by 2022 for smaller businesses. Employers would not be allowed to include tips in their calculation of hourly wages.
Among the speakers standing outside the fast-food restaurant were a handful of low-wage workers, including Rosheeda Credit, who had been one of the four plaintiffs in the court case. Credit, a mother of five children, said making $15 per hour could give workers like her the chance to do more for their families. She said she was glad voters would get to make the decision, rather than the council.
“I am glad they gave us an opportunity to choose what we would like to be paid,” she said.
Advocates said they believe a majority of Minneapolis voters agree, citing a recent poll of 400 Minneapolis voters. The poll, conducted by the research firm Patinkin Research Strategies, found that 68 percent of the people surveyed said they supported the proposed charter amendment.
But business organization leaders, who said their members are already grappling with potential economic ramifications from the city’s new sick-leave ordinance, said they’re hearing a less positive response. John Stanoch, interim president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he’s been hearing from a wide spectrum of business owners: large and small businesses, start-ups, immigrant-run businesses.
“I think there’s a high level of anxiety of what this will mean for business owners and their employees,” he said. “I know the advocates often use the rhetoric of ‘big downtown business,’ but that’s not the exclusive group we’re hearing from.”
Dan McElroy, president and CEO of the Minnesota Restaurant Association and Minnesota Lodging Association, said in a statement that his group was also disappointed by the judge’s ruling.
“It is important to emphasize that unlike state and federal minimum wage laws, the proposed Minneapolis charter language makes no recognition for young workers, temporary workers or very small employers,” he said, adding that the increase could potentially put thousands of hospitality workers’ jobs and hours “in jeopardy.”