Minneapolis joins growing list of $15 an hour cities
Workers who fought long and hard for the $15 minimum wage, including Veronica Mendez Moore of CTUL and Ginger Jentzen of 15Now Minnesota, addressed a news conference following the City Council vote. | Photo courtesy of CTUL via Twitter

MINNEAPOLIS (PAI) — After a 4-year campaign led by community groups, unions and Latino groups, the Minneapolis City Council was poised to approve a local $15 hourly minimum wage, in an early-morning vote on June 30. The City Council voted Friday to increase the minimum wage to $15-an hour. It applies to most employees in the city, even those who earn tips. Companies now get five to seven years to phase in that pay hike.

Council members put the finishing touches on the legislation in a work session two days before, less than a week after hundreds of workers jammed the council’s hearing room to support the increase. The raise would aid 71,000 workers, mostly women and people of color.

Minneapolis is raising the minimum wage by popular demand and because its low-paid workers, many of them in fast food and retail, need it.

It’s also doing so over strong opposition from restaurant owners, Republicans and the radical right. Foes even went so far as to jam a measure through the GOP-majority Minnesota legislature yanking all cities’ powers over labor legislation, and making it retroactive, thus scheming against Minneapolis’ plan. Gov. Mark Dayton, DFL-Minn., vetoed that measure.

Minneapolis joined the increasing national movement to raise the wages of the lowest-paid workers: Fast food workers, adjunct professors, warehouse workers, airport workers and port truck drivers, among others.

Unions, including the Minnesota AFL-CIO and – nationally—notably but not exclusively the Service Employees, support that drive, as a national minimum wage hike is virtually impossible in the GOP-run U.S. Congress. The national wage is $7.25 hourly. Minnesota’s is $9.50.

A $15 minimum wage also won support as a national policy goal for the Democratic Party.

“I feel like we have a really strong groundswell of support for raising the wage” in Minneapolis, said Ward 8 Councilwoman Elizabeth Glidden, the measure’s chief author.

Still, fearing a last-minute full-court press against the $15 wage from the business community, the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation (MRLF) and allied community groups urged supporters to come to city hall for both the June 28 and June 30 meetings. “You never know what can happen,” warned Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou, the federation president.

Along with allied groups, the MRLF has maintained support for “one fair wage” for all workers. The business community — particularly the restaurant industry — fought to exempt tipped workers from the proposed $15 minimum wage. But some small businesses and restaurant owners were vocal supporters of the $15 wage campaign.

“This City Council appears united that the wage should reach $15 and it should be ‘one fair wage’ that follows the state model,” Glidden said.

Glidden told the Minneapolis Labor Review that the current minimum wage hike proposal would phase-in all employees to $15 per hour within five years. The phase-in would be weighted so that a more rapid timetable would apply to larger employers while firms with l00 or fewer employees would get more time to reach $15.

“There might be some changes to the ordinance” and the time frame for the phase-in “but the major structural pieces will stay. I feel like we’re really close,” Glidden said.

In Minneapolis and elsewhere, low-wage workers who stood the most to gain became spokespeople for the minimum wage, despite their frequent non-union status and lack of protection against employer retaliation. They addressed rallies, lobbied elected leaders, told their stories to the media — and went on strike to demand “$15 and a union.”

“I might not know a lot about government, but I do understand one thing: We deserve the money,” fast food worker Steven Suffridge said last year. Workers like Suffridge described the challenges of trying to survive on low-wage, part-time jobs. Many reported needing to coordinate a schedule of two or more part-time jobs, still struggling to make ends meet.

“In Minneapolis, the work that enabled us to get to this point has all been done by grassroots leaders, community groups, and labor,” Glidden said. The minimum wage movement also helped win City Council approval last year for a policy mandating employers provide paid sick time — a policy which starts July 1.

The June 22 hearing on raising the Minneapolis minimum wage stretched from mid-afternoon to late evening, with the majority of people testifying in support of the higher wage, Workday Minnesota reported. An increase to $15 an hour would give a raise to 71,000 workers, disproportionately workers of color, immigrant and female workers.

“I work at Pizza Luce in the back of the house and we need to raise the minimum wage to $15 and still be able to get tips as well,” said Donell Martin, a member of CTUL, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha / Center for Workers United in Justice. “We cannot survive on anything less than that.” Leaders of several unions also backed the $15 minimum wage.

“Night after night we see people coming into the emergency room because they have inadequate housing, inadequate food” and lack access to proper medications due to poverty, said Minnesota Nurses Association President Mary Turner. “This is a public health crisis.”

Education Minnesota Vice President Paul Mueller said teachers see a direct connection between higher wages and better school performance. “After working with thousands of students, I can tell you it [a higher minimum wage] makes a big difference,” he said.

And Unite Here Local 17 Secretary-Treasurer Wade Luneburg, whose union represents hospitality workers, told the council to act because the state and federal governments failed to raise the minimum wage. “We cannot afford inaction,” he testified. Luneburg also said Local 17 would continue to press for broader efforts to raise the wage and make sure “there is a level playing field for all businesses.”


Steve Share
Steve Share

Steve Share is Editor at Minneapolis Labor Review. Share is a member of the Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild (CWA Local 37002). In addition to editing the Labor Review, Share serves as communications director for the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation.

Barb Kucera
Barb Kucera

Barb Kucera was editor of Workday Minnesota. She served for 6 years as director of the Labor Education Service, which publishes Workday. Kucera has degrees in journalism and industrial relations and a background in communications, including as editor of The Union Advocate. She is an associate member of the Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild/CWA Local 37002.