Push to increase minimum wage begins at Minnesota Legislature
By Doug Belden
ST. PAUL -- State lawmakers promised to act quickly this session to raise the minimum wage, and they started the ball rolling Thursday evening with the first meeting of the House-Senate conference committee.
The committee heard public testimony for more than three hours Thursday but did not vote.
The panel of six DFLers will try to craft a compromise bill that will be submitted to each chamber for an up-or-down vote, no floor amendments allowed.
It’s the same six members who were appointed last May to hash out a compromise between the House and Senate bills but failed to do so. The House passed a bill raising the rate to $9.50 an hour; the Senate capped its rate at $7.75. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton supports the $9.50 rate.
Most of the three dozen speakers at Thursday’s meeting were in favor of the increase to $9.50, including representatives from labor, religious and women and children’s groups. But several business owners testified that they would have to reduce their workforce and/or raise prices if the new rate goes through. Some said the brunt of the cuts would likely fall on young workers.
Some restaurant representatives said tips should be factored into the minimum-wage equation.
Currently, Minnesota workers don’t count tips toward calculation of minimum wage, which means they earn tips on top of the minimum. Federal law and most states allow employers to include tips in minimum-wage calculations.
Neither the House nor Senate bill contains a tip-credit proposal.
Minnesota’s minimum wage for large employers is $6.15 per hour, which puts it near the bottom of states. In practice, most Minnesota low-wage workers earn the federal minimum of $7.25, which 20 states use as their minimum wage.
Under the House proposal, which would raise the rate to $9.50 by 2015 and index it to inflation, Minnesota would be among the highest minimum-wage states. Eleven states, not including Minnesota, currently include automatic adjustments tied to inflation or other escalators.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, has suggested his caucus would be willing to raise Minnesota’s minimum to $7.25, which is what’s in effect in neighboring states. But he said the state should focus on initiatives aimed at encouraging businesses to create good jobs.
For the year ending July 2013, roughly 5 percent of the state’s hourly workforce earned the federal minimum wage or less, according to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. That’s about 83,000 workers. The number jumps to 114,000 if you include salaried workers as well.
Seventy to 80 percent of hourly workers making minimum wage in Minnesota are unmarried and working part time, the department found. About two-thirds live in the metro area, about 60 percent are women and about 60 percent are 15 to 24 years old. Nearly half work in food and drink establishments. About 20 percent live at or below the poverty line.
The conference committee planned to meet again this afternoon for about an hour.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.