The push to raise Minneapolis’ minimum wage to $15 per hour has cleared an important first step to getting the issue on the November ballot — setting off a process that could yield a legal battle between workers and business groups.
City officials announced Wednesday that organizers looking to raise the wage through a charter amendment had gathered enough valid signatures to send the issue to voters if the proposal clears additional procedural hurdles.
The groups 15 Now, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change and other advocates had turned in a petition with 17,902 signatures. A detailed review by the City Clerk’s Office found that just 8,418 of those signatures could be matched with voter registration records, but the number was well over the required 6,869 signatures.
The city’s approval of the signatures at a council committee meeting was heralded as a victory by petition organizers, but it does not mean the issue will end up on the ballot. Supporters will have to pass two more hurdles: legal consideration by the city attorney, who will determine if the proposal amounts to a proper charter amendment, and a final vote by the City Council to refer the matter to voters.
City Attorney Susan Segal is scheduled to provide her opinion to the council July 28, and the council will vote Aug. 5. The officials will consider if the petition falls into the narrow spectrum of city issues that can be decided by voters in Minneapolis: basic functions of government outlined in the city charter. Changes to the city’s code of ordinances, on the other hand, can be made only by the council.
A separate charter amendment proposal, which would require Minneapolis police to carry professional liability insurance, will also be considered at the same meetings.
Advocates for the wage increase, which would make Minneapolis’ minimum wage one of the highest in the country, say they’re confident the petition will pass legal muster.
“We’re very confident in our legal analysis: we have the right, there’s no pre-emption from the city,” said Ginger Jentzen, executive director of 15 Now Minnesota.
Jentzen said her group is pushing the issue to voters because the council has declined to act on it. A few council members have expressed support for a higher minimum wage, but the topic has been tabled until the fall as the city waits for the results of a study on the economic impacts of a wage increase. Mayor Betsy Hodges has said she does not favor a city wage increase.
Segal has not publicly weighed in on the matter, but the chairman of the charter commission has said he does not believe it could be handled with a charter amendment. Should the council decline to send the issue to the ballot, Jentzen said the city could face a lawsuit.
“I think all the groups that are organizing around this would be prepared to take legal action,” she said.
Meanwhile, business groups appear ready to mount an opposition. John Stanoch, interim president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, said his group believes the issue is improper for a charter amendment and that a city minimum wage increase may conflict with state law. Should the council forward the issue to the ballot, he said the chamber would be ready for a “conversation” about a lawsuit to stop it.