Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said Thursday that she does not support raising the city’s minimum wage as a way to tackle economic disparities, setting herself apart from a growing coalition of advocates trying to boost the city’s base wage.
While she has spoken publicly in favor of raising wages — including at a December rally advocating a $15 minimum wage for fast-food workers — the mayor said that she does not believe a citywide wage hike is the best strategy for alleviating poverty or erasing inequalities between racial groups.
“When it comes to a municipal minimum wage, I’m not convinced it’s a helpful solution for our city’s economy, specifically,” Hodges told the Star Tribune. “I think that this is a fight that can or should be industry-specific, and one that I think should be done at the regional, state and federal level.”
The mayor’s comments come as advocates of a citywide $15 minimum wage have been ramping up their efforts locally and around the country. A Feb. 15 rally featuring the Seattle City Council member who led that city’s successful push for a $15 wage drew about 250 supporters and raised $10,000. A handful of Minneapolis City Council members have expressed at least general support for higher wages, and one, Lisa Bender, pitched in $1,000 toward the effort.
Hodges says her opposition is twofold.
First, she said Minneapolis is “situated different economically” compared to other cities that have recently upped their minimum wage. Seattle’s vote last year was followed by actions in San Francisco, where the minimum wage will reach $15 in 2018, and Chicago, which will raise its base wage to $13 between now and 2019. New York City’s minimum is headed to just over $15 in 2019, while Oakland, Calif., has raised its minimum wage to $12.25 per hour with a requirement that businesses provide sick leave to workers.
Opponents of such a move in Minneapolis have expressed concerns about losing businesses to St. Paul or other surrounding cities with lower wages.
Hodges said she believes wage increases should occur on a broader level than individual cities. She said she backed Minnesota’s recent move to gradually increase the statewide minimum wage to $9.50 for employees of large businesses and $7.75 for small businesses.
“I want to be clear: I support, I believe that the minimum wage should be higher,” she said. “I believe it should be higher nationally, I believe it should be higher in the state.”
The mayor also said she believes cities should employ other strategies to ensure all residents benefit from economic activity. She said she plans to share more specifics about those ideas in the future.
For now, however, advocates say they’re disappointed to learn of the mayor’s opposition and are determined to win over her support. They said there’s a growing group of people interested in higher wages in Minneapolis, including some business owners.
Ty Moore, a national organizer for the group 15 Now, said he disagrees with the mayor’s assertion that the city can do more for workers by opting for approaches unrelated to wages. He pointed to Hodges’ repeated mention of improving racial equity as a top priority of her administration.
“I would challenge the mayor and others to find any other single policy tool that the city has at its disposal that would do more to lift up low-wage workers, particularly workers of color who are disproportionately pushed into low-wage jobs,” he said.
Anthony Newby, head of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, another group involved in the minimum wage effort, said advocates are interested in a slate of changes, including requirements for businesses to provide sick leave and to give workers notice of schedule changes in advance.
“This city has a political choice to make,” he said. “We’re at a crisis level of economic inequality. Either we choose to do both — attract businesses and growth to the city and prioritize the lives of working poor people — or not. And that’s a very clear political choice. I think it’s a mistake to prioritize one or the other. We have to do both at this moment.”
Moore said the mayor’s support would provide momentum for the campaign, those passing a higher wage wouldn’t necessarily require her approval. Such a move could happen through a council or public vote, he said.
It’s unclear how much support the wage campaign has on the council. The rally was attended by three council members: Bender, Alondra Cano and Jacob Frey. A fourth, Cam Gordon, sent an aide to express support. Gordon said he backs the $15 wage campaign, though he also encourages advocates to explore the issues on a regional level.
Bender said she’s supportive of cities raising wages, so long as each community first does thorough research to determine the range of impacts. She said she’s waiting to gather more information about a potential change in Minneapolis, though she’s excited about the prospects.
“If it’s done right, a city’s higher minimum wage helps the economy by increasing the buying power of low-wage workers,” she said. “Those dollars tend to stay in the local community, the local economy.”