ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Protesters converged on the State Capitol Thursday night, as lawmakers debated a local wage control bill.
The Republican backed measure would bar cities from adopting their own local minimum wage, and would knock down sick leave policies already adopted in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The Uniform Labor Standards bill, authored by Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington, passed the House late Thursday night after a five hour debate. The 76 to 53 tally was divided mainly along party lines, with only two Democrats voting for it.
Business organizations, including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, support the legislation based on the argument it will create an administrative burden on businesses with employees working in different cities on different days of the week.
"Businesses don’t know what they’re doing in terms of planning for hiring, and it really is a matter of having uniform consistent standards across our state," Rep. Garofalo told KARE.
"We don’t want to have this patchwork that makes it very difficult to do business."
He also asserted that local control can cut both ways, and allow local governments to enact policies that Democrats don't like. He cited local right-to-work ordinances enacted by individual counties in Kentucky.
Opponents say it will have a disproportionately hard impact on low wage workers in large cities, and it constitutes a "power grab" that disrupts the local democratic process Republicans have traditionally championed.
"It’s unfair. It’s undemocratic. And it’s not what Minnesota is about. We can do better, and that’s why I’ll vote not today," Rep. Erin Murphy, a St. Paul Democrat, told reporters.
She said the bill would strip sick leave benefits from an estimated 150,000 people who work in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Those laws were passed after lengthy campaigns by grassroots organizations, also in the face of opposition from business owners groups.
"Local preemption is the State trying to rip your rights away and place them in the hands of big business, so I’m here today to tell you we see you and we’ve had enough of it," Katie Drahos, a retail worker who's also part of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, asserted.
Opponents focused on the hardships low income workers face when they're forced to take time off to care for sick family members, at the risk of losing their jobs, let alone forgoing pay.
"This bill would disproportionately affect workers of color who have led movement and built a movement to pass policies such as earned sick and safe time in Minneapolis and St. Paul, community activist Rod Adams of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change said.
During the floor debate, Democrats pointed out that people in the food service industry, by and large, don't have sick leave benefits and can't afford to take time off when they're ill.
"Do you want the person at Subway coming to work sick and sneezing on your sandwich?" asked one Democrat.
Democrat David Bly offered a "fair scheduling" amendment that would require employers statewide to give employees 21 days' notice of their schedules, and require more than 24 hours' notice for any changes in their hours.
Rep. Bly's proposal would also allow workers to refuse to come in within 11 hours of their previous shift ending.
Rep. Jim Knoblach, a St. Cloud Republican, said such a scheduling rule would seriously hamper thousands of employers around the state if it ever became law.
Republican Sarah Anderson asked Bly if it would apply to the Minnesota Vikings, or NFL teams that come to Minnesota to play in 2018's Super Bowl game.
Bly, who eventually withdrew his amendment, noted that the Vikings are contract employees rather than hourly. And he noted every player in the NFL knows when the Super Bowl takes place, and hopes to participate.
A similar fair scheduling proposal was rejected in Minneapolis after strong pushback from private employers.
But Mayor Betsy Hodges and a majority of those on the City Council still favor raising the minimum wage beyond the statewide $9.50 per hour minimum wage. Some favor $12, while others support $15.