In his June 1 Star Tribune opinion piece, "Employers buffeted by layers of rules," attorney V. John Ella argues that local government requirements for paid sick leave or a higher-than-state minimum wage are an undue burden on businesses. Let's take a closer look at the need for such requirements and whether local governments should indeed jump into the fray.
Last year, the Minnesota Legislature raised the state minimum wage from $6.15 to $8 an hour, increasing to $9.50 an hour by August 2016, and indexed to inflation thereafter. This is promising news for low-wage Minnesotans, but not as good news as it should be.
Minnesota's new minimum wage is $6,172 below the annual wage a single adult in the Twin Cities needs for a basic living. If you're a single mom with one child, $9.50 an hour falls $32,176 short of the $51,936 annual wage, or $24.97 an hour, needed to cover basic expenses. Even a two-parent, one-child family needs both parents to work full-time at $15.69 an hour to meet basic needs.
What kind of society are we when working full time at an honorable and necessary job doesn't pay enough to take care of your family? What do low-income families do? Parents work two, sometimes three jobs. They turn to public assistance to make ends meet. Their families go without a decent place to live and food on the table.
Paying a living wage makes economic sense for businesses and the economy. Low-wage workers usually spend most of a wage increase rapidly and locally, boosting local businesses and the economy. Savvy businesses like Ikea, Ben & Jerry's, QuikTrip, and Aetna realize paying a living wage helps recruit and retain the best talent. An increase in the minimum wage brings the economic benefit of reducing public assistance for "the working poor" and has proved not to result in job losses.
Paid sick leave
More than 1.1 million Minnesota workers have no paid sick leave. Further, whether you have paid sick leave varies by race, ethnicity and occupation. About 60 percent of whites and Asians in Minnesota have paid sick leave, compared with 50 percent of black Minnesota workers, and 40 percent of our state's Hispanic workers. In 2013, 79 percent of Minnesota's food preparation and serving-related employees had no paid sick leave.
What do workers do when they or a loved one they take care of is sick? Workers with no paid sick leave are more likely to go to work with a contagious illness. Parents with no paid sick leave are nearly twice as apt to send their children to school or day care sick. Low-income workers take leave without pay — or are fired for taking leave; 3.5 days of pay lost to illness are, on average, equivalent to a family's monthly grocery budget.
The Minnesota Department of Health recently released a report on the impact of paid sick and family leave on the health of Minnesotans. Their research found that, from 2004-2013, sick food workers in Minnesota were the source or likely source for 208 foodborne outbreaks and almost 3,000 documented illnesses, and that the spread of diseases associated with ill workers also occurs in long-term care facilities, schools and child-care facilities.
Mr. Ella doesn't necessarily dispute that paid leave benefits workers and society, nor that a living wage is the right thing to do, but he proposes that local governments be prohibited from adopting such requirements and the state instead do the heavy lifting.
That would be nice. We introduced earned sick and safe leave legislation this past session. It received no hearing in the House and only an informational hearing in the Senate. Meanwhile, there were efforts by some legislators to roll back the new minimum wage increase for workers who receive tips and to repeal automatic future increases to account for inflation.
We hope that the Legislature will look more kindly in 2016 on our proposal to require Minnesota businesses to offer paid sick leave. We also hope that Minnesota's legislators will consider making a living wage the standard.
In the meantime, we understand and support efforts by local governments to require paid sick time and living wages. These measures make sound economic sense. Healthy workers who can support their families make more reliable and more productive employees in the long run.