Community organizers held a rally outside City Hall before the Council's Committee of the Whole was scheduled to vote on two proposed charter amendments — one establishing a $15 minimum wage in the city and another requiring police officers to carry professional liability insurance. Photo by Carter Jones

Community organizers held a rally outside City Hall before the Council's Committee of the Whole was scheduled to vote on two proposed charter amendments — one establishing a $15 minimum wage in the city and another requiring police officers to carry professional liability insurance. Photo by Carter Jones

Judge orders city to place $15 minimum wage on ballot

Updated: August 26, 2016 - 1:54 pm

A proposed charter amendment that would allow Minneapolis voters to decide on setting a $15 minimum wage must appear on the ballot this fall, a Hennepin County District Court judge ruled Aug. 22.

Judge Susan Robiner sided with a local coalition that sued in August to get the minimum wage question placed on the Nov. 8 ballot after the City Council voted against it. Although council members expressed support for a higher minimum wage, the majority followed the advice of City Attorney Susan Segal, who argued a minimum wage fell outside the narrow range of issues that could properly be addressed through an amendment to the city’s charter.

Robiner disagreed, writing in her opinion: “The state constitution does not identify what matters may be included in a charter amendment.”

The petitioners who filed the lawsuit were associated with three organizations leading the push for a higher local minimum wage: 15 Now Minnesota, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change and Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha. Mike Griffin, field director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, said members of his organization were “ecstatic” to hear the judge’s ruling and were already laying the groundwork for “an aggressive, grass-roots campaign” in support of the charter amendment.

“This will be one of the largest campaigns that Minneapolis has ever seen,” Griffin said.

In a statement released shortly after the judge’s ruling, Segal wrote: “We are conferring with City leadership to determine the City’s response.”

Minneapolis Downtown Council President and CEO Steve Cramer and Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce Interim President and CEO John Stanoch said in a joint statement that questions like the city’s minimum wage were better addressed through the legislative process “which permits input and careful deliberation on consequential policy matters.”

“We believe that the District Court ruling in this matter is wrong and we urge the City to appeal,” the two wrote. “The ruling creates an expansive and dangerous precedent and opens the door to initiative and referendum style governance in our City which is plainly not provided for by the Minneapolis Charter.

The plan put to voters would raise the minimum wage gradually, beginning with a hike to $10 an hour Aug. 1, 2017, and increasing annually until Aug. 1, 2020, when it reaches $15 an hour. Beginning in August 2021, the city’s hourly minimum wage would be adjusted annually to keep pace with the cost of living.

For businesses with fewer than 500 employees, the minimum wage would increase by just $1 per year, reaching $15 an hour in 2022.

More than 30 cities have set local minimum wages, and those currently planning to raise the local minimum wage to $15 per hour include Washington, D.C., Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The state’s minimum wage increased Aug. 1 to $9.50 an hour for large employers and $7.75 an hour for small employers.

Several weeks before Robiner issued her ruling, City Council members Lisa Bender (Ward 10), Jacob Frey (Ward 3) and Abdi Warsame (Ward 6) put forward an alternative to the charter amendment process.

The three introduced a measure directing the City Coordinator’s office to study the minimum wage issue and recommend a policy by the second quarter of 2017. A plan for community engagement around the minimum wage issue is expected to reach the Council in October.