Minneapolis officials are proposing that every business in the city be required for the first time to give all of their workers paid sick leave and set all of their work schedules at least 28 days in advance.
Under the emerging plan, which would be the most far-reaching in the nation, businesses that failed to meet that time frame also would have to pay the employee extra, including at least four hours of pay if a schedule was adjusted within 24 hours of a shift.
City officials who support the new rules say they are necessary because the lack of access to sick leave, coupled with increasingly unpredictable on-call schedules, keep people in poverty.
But many business owners are furious and aggressively launching an all-out campaign to urge councilors to stop the proposals from becoming law, or least scale them back. Dayna Frank, owner of the downtown music venue First Avenue, said the plan is so burdensome and unworkable that it is almost begging businesses to move to other nearby cities.
"It almost feels like this was written by the city of St. Paul," she said.
The growing pushback follows months of intense lobbying by low-income workers' groups who have turned out in droves to rally at City Hall and outside fast food restaurants, a downtown bank and Target Field. They have won favor from the mayor and many on the council, who are proving increasingly willing to take on the issue of economic disparity.
Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, one of the proposal's sponsors, said that the United States has a long history of setting standards for workers, but the rules haven't kept pace with changes in society.
She called the proposed changes "a good, concrete way to take action to address disparities and increased inequality."
Owners of restaurants, hardware stores, lawn care businesses and hair salons have engaged in the fight in a big way. They have packed a series of meetings in coffee shops and community rooms, armed with tough criticism for the proposal: that it is too sweeping, out of touch, impractical, and worse — potentially devastating to the local economy.
In a church-basement meeting last week that attracted more than 100 people, most of them business owners, many speakers told council members that requiring paid sick leave for all employees and schedules set 28 days in advance would result in higher prices and businesses opting to open elsewhere.
The plan, known as the Working Families Agenda, would require the city's 39,000 businesses with at least a single employee to provide paid sick leave, picking up one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked.
In addition, all employers would need to provide additional compensation if they make schedule changes on short notice, paying employees one hour of additional "predictability pay" each time the schedule is changed.
Employers would also have to pay workers overtime if they didn't get at least 11 hours off between shifts — a move aimed at eliminating so-called "clopening" shifts when workers stay late to close the business and then are expected back a few hours later for an early morning shift.
Mayor Betsy Hodges made workers' reforms a focal point in her State of the City address in April, noting the struggle for upward mobility among people of color who live and work in Minneapolis.
"We are building the workforce of the future," the mayor said in her address. "We are going to build the workplace of the future. And right now we are building the city of the future."
The plans drafted by the council this summer are similar to some that have already been proposed in the state Legislature, but have not moved forward. Similar proposals have been made in more than a dozen other states, but none has been approved on a statewide basis.
Similar regulations went into effect this year in San Francisco, but there the laws only apply to large chain stores. That ordinance also has a tighter timeline than the Minneapolis proposal: Employers must provide schedules two weeks in advance, rather than four.
Hodges said she's been talking with business owners since she began working on the idea, and is taking to heart the recent wave of feedback. "I think this recent influx of good information and data will really help us craft something strong," she said.
Council members said they intend to vote on a proposal by the end of the year.
Who it helps
Workers' groups and council members who have championed the plans say there are a large number of Minneapolis workers and families who survive by working long hours, often at two or three different jobs. But without the kind of protections often offered to higher-wage workers, they often have to come to work sick or risk losing their jobs and negotiate schedules that can change without much notice. At a recent event at Target Field, workers spoke of being called to wait for hours in line to find out if they'd been selected for a shift.
The handful of workers who spoke at the Sept. 30 community meeting said they'd been told to work while sick, been fired for speaking out about salaries and workplace conditions and made to feel like a second, lower class of Minneapolis residents.
"Many businesses have that type of built-in, unpredictable aspect to the work, and right now the culture demands that workers bear the entire burden," said Anthony Newby, executive director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, one of the organizations leading the charge for changes.
Newby said he recognizes that a small business doesn't deal with the same considerations of a giant corporation, like McDonald's or Wells Fargo. He said he thinks there's room for nuance in a final ordinance, though he thinks the city shouldn't try to operate a patchwork set of rules.
Trouble with one-size-fits-all
But many business owners say a one-size-fits-all approach is tone deaf to their needs.
Restaurant owners located downtown or near sports venues say big games and events that draw tens of thousands of people can be tough to plan for. People plan impromptu dinners with large groups within a few days or weeks of an event and the weather can have a dramatic impact on the flow of customers.
In another packed forum hosted by Glidden, several small-business owners noted that they frequently work longer than the standard workweek, go without paid sick time and deal with employees who leave without much notice.
They argued that many employees in the service industry like the flexibility that comes with schedules that frequently change and figure out how to make time for other activities. And under the new scheduling rules, an employer would be penalized for calling in a worker to fill in for another who has made a request for a schedule change.
Dan McElroy, president and CEO of Hospitality Minnesota, said restaurants' concerns are shared by other industries with unpredictable business cycles, from health care institutions to funeral homes.
Rebecca Illingworth, who owns Tinto Cocina + Cantina in Uptown, says the sick leave requirements would cost her an additional $15,000 per year. She said she supports the council's goals, but believes the impact could be significant on businesses without much wiggle room in their budgets.
A small group of businesses joined together last week to express general support of the plans, with some modifications.
Members of the Main Street Alliance of Minnesota said they want to help workers and are ready to take on more responsibility, but the proposal will need to be scaled back for most employers.
"I think they are real problems and as small-business people, everyone does better when workers are happy," said Danny Schwartzman, owner of Common Roots Cafe.
As of late last week, some council members had begun to indicate that they'd be open to a trimmed-down proposal.
Council President Barb Johnson said she's glad council members are now listening to the business community, in addition to workers and advocates.
"I think this is what council members need to hear," she said.
Erin Golden • 612-673-4790