House approves gradual increase of minimum wage

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

The House of Representatives Friday, May 3, voted to increase the state minimum wage to $9.50 per hour over three years.

The legislation, authored by Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, includes an inflation adjustment provision.

Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, debates his minimum wage bill on the House floor. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, debates his minimum wage bill on the House floor. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

“We are talking about a real benefit for workers who struggle,” Winkler said.

Not everyone viewed the legislation as beneficial.

House Deputy Minority Leader Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, to pointed to Wisconsin, Iowa and North Dakota, competitor states that have minimum wages mirroring the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

“Good intentions do not come without consequences,” Loon said.

Winkler’s bill passed the House on 68-62 vote.

Debate revealed the concerns of agriculture. Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, amended the bill to exclude agricultural businesses from paying overtime to laborers working up to 48 hours a week.

Some pro-labor Democrats, such as Reps. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, and Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, opposed the amendment.

“Forty hours is enough,” Anzelc said.

Mahoney spoke of creating second-class citizens — a depiction one Greater Minnesota Rep. Debra Kiel, R-Crookston, a farmer, found offensive.

“We can’t function without them,” Kiel said of agricultural workers. Farmers prize their workers, pay them well, she said.

The Poppe amendment passed on a 99-30 vote.

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, amended the bill to prevent employers from extracting money from tips paid by customers through debit, charge or credit cards.

“That’s what a tip is, a little something extra,” Davnie said.

One offered amendment would have allowed restaurants to pay waiters $7.25 per hour if the wage and tips over the pay period averaged out to at least $12 per hour.

“I don’t want to see businesses closing here in Minnesota,” Rep. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury, said of her amendment. But the amendment failed on a tied vote.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, described the minimum wage legislation as an incentive for employers to replace workers. Those selling tablets to restaurateurs for customers to order with, rather than rely on waiters, will use the increased minimum wage as a marketing tool, he said.

Winkler views the bill as positive.

“This will raise wages for over 350,000 Minnesotans and boost our state economy,” he said.

Winkler’s bill raises the minimum wage for large employers to $8 an hour Aug. 1, $9 an hour the year after, and $9.50 per hour on Aug. 1, 2015. Under the bill, a large employer would be defined as making $500,000 or more a year. For smaller employers, on the same time line, wages would increase to $7 per hour, $8 per hour, and then $8.50 an hour, under the bill.

The state minimum wage last increased in 2005.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 about 3.9 percent of Minnesota workers worked at or below the federal minimum wage.

Mike Hickey, of the National Federation of Independent Business-Minnesota, said increasing the state minimum wage would hurt the hiring of teenagers and people entering the workforce. Employers will balk at hiring an untried worker at $9.50 an hour, he explained. The Federation also found the wage escalator provision in the bill objectionable.

The Democratic-led Senate has yet to debate minimum wage on the floor. Gov. Mark Dayton is supportive of increasing the minimum wage.

 

Tim Budig can be reached at tim.budig@ecm-inc.com

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