Efforts to revitalize downtown Minneapolis could get a boost from a Labor Standards Board, city and union leaders said Wednesday as they tried to rally support for the idea.

The board, initially proposed in 2022, would be an advisory body comprised of representatives of both industry and labor who would study and recommend new workplace regulations to the City Council and mayor, who would ultimately decide whether to adopt them.

It has not yet been introduced in ordinance, but has already inspired an opposition TV and billboard ad campaign called Save Local Restaurants by national industry organizations. Members of Hospitality Minnesota, an industry group that represents restaurants and hotels, are also concerned that more regulations would hurt their businesses and jeopardize downtown revitalization.

"When has creating new layers of bureaucracy ever spurred economic revitalization?" Hospitality Minnesota CEO Angie Whitcomb asked in a statement Wednesday, adding that the group will continue to work with city leaders.

But supporters of the Labor Standards Board argue that it is meant to bring businesses and labor together to try to reinvigorate the local economy amid staffing shortages undermining many sectors.

"We need to be rejuvenating downtown, bringing back both businesses and people," Mayor Jacob Frey said. "We're leveraging a better outcome by not just creating policy from the council dais, not just having one individual mayor or council member bring an idea forward that hasn't been fully vetted by both businesses and labor, but to do it together."

City Council President Elliott Payne said it has taken a year and a half to make the board a reality because officials are trying to bring different stakeholders together in good faith, "to make sure that we're being thoughtful and judicious about how we bring that together."

The mayor's office said it has been convening behind-the-scenes work to introduce the Labor Standards Board possibly as soon as next month.

SEIU Local 26 also released its own downtown revitalization report on Wednesday called "Building an Inclusive Recovery for Downtown Minneapolis: Prioritizing Workers for Inclusive Prosperity For All."

The report was a response to a slew of other reports and recommendations published in recent months by business leaders including the Downtown Council and Minneapolis Foundation. It identified four recommendations for economic recovery from the perspective of service workers who could not work from home during the pandemic.

  1. Higher wages that keep pace with inflation and more full-time work that qualifies employees for benefits like healthcare.
  2. Setting up the Minneapolis Labor Standards Board to recommend new regulations for improving conditions in specific industries.
  3. Converting low-occupancy office towers to housing, and ensuring the builders hire non-trafficked labor and include affordable units.
  4. De-escalation and social service training for downtown security officers and other public safety alternatives to police.

Josh Musikantow, a security officer with the River Towers condominium downtown, said that when he works the late-night shift he encounters many people in need of homeless shelters, help for domestic violence, veteran services and mental health intervention. He said he spent a long time looking for a 24/7 non-emergency hotline to call for help before realizing that he was among the best resources on the street in the middle of the night.

"I certainly don't have sufficient training to act in that capacity. Most of the time, all I could do is talk to people to get them a wheelchair, bring them some towels, let them borrow a phone," Musikantow said. "I have seen firsthand how great the need is to invest in community-based alternatives for safety and de-escalation."

Musikantow said there is also high turnover among downtown security officers, with many taking long commutes on public transit to live in more affordable communities.

"We should be able to afford to live in the city," said Atayde Rios, a janitor.

In a joint statement responding to SEIU, the Minneapolis Regional Chamber and Downtown council urged a "deliberate and measured" approach to changing policies that could affect small businesses.

"We encourage Minneapolis policymakers to engage in a thorough dialogue with the business community to better understand our challenges," the statement said. "Both of our organizations remain committed to fostering a business-friendly environment that supports economic growth and job creation, while protecting and supporting employees."

Labor standards boards have been created in other states.

During the last legislative session, Minnesota created a labor standards board to investigate why the nursing home industry specifically is experiencing a critical staffing shortage. The Nursing Home Workforce Standards Board aims to improve working conditions at nursing homes and attract more workers.