Striking Allina nurses joined $15 minimum wage supporters in a rally and march down West Broadway Avenue on Sept. 12. Photo by Dylan Thomas

Striking Allina nurses joined $15 minimum wage supporters in a rally and march down West Broadway Avenue on Sept. 12. Photo by Dylan Thomas

Activists want $15 minimum wage fast-tracked

Updated: September 21, 2016 - 6:01 pm

Council members say complex ordinance takes time to craft

“The rent can’t wait!” is the rallying cry of the activists calling on the Minneapolis City Council to pass a $15 minimum wage ordinance sooner rather than later.

“Businesses have paid poverty wages for too long,” Pastor Paul Slack told a crowd of more than 150 people who on Monday marched through North Minneapolis in support of a citywide minimum wage, stopping outside of fast food restaurants, banks and payday lenders as they made their way down West Broadway Avenue. Slack said it was “sinful” that some employed at or near full-time still struggled to afford housing and transportation.

Although there is support on the City Council for raising the pay of low-wage workers, several council members said the city needs until the next year to engage with workers and business owners and to study the impact of setting a minimum wage higher than is required by the state or neighboring cities.

“I would say that six months is a reasonable period of time to write a complex law, because we’re really just starting the process now in October,” Lisa Bender, who represents Ward 10 on the City Council said.

A Minnesota Supreme Court ruling in August blocked an attempt to put the minimum wage question in front of voters via a proposed amendment to the city charter, and so activists pushing for higher wages changed tack: Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, the nonprofit that had pledged to turn out voters for the amendment, shifted its grassroots campaign to instead pressure the City Council to pass a minimum wage ordinance this year.

But the Council was already devising its own timeline. A staff report outlining the schedule for crafting the ordinance and a community engagement process is due to the Council Oct. 5, and Bender said a vote could come sometime in the second quarter of 2017.

She said they need that time to answer critical questions, including how the law would impact employers, whether small and large businesses will be treated differently and on what schedule wages will rise.

The proposed charter amendment included a phase-in of higher wages, beginning with a hike to a $10 minimum wage in Aug. 2017 and reaching $15 per hour in 2020. The phase-in was slower for businesses with fewer than 500 workers.

Workers like Rosheeda Credit argue there is an urgent need for action. At the rally in North Minneapolis on Monday, Credit, a former healthcare worker now employed by McDonald’s, said she could “barely afford” childcare for her five children and that her car sat in a garage for six months because she didn’t have the money to fix it.

Rosheeda Credit said she can "barely afford" to raise her children on fast-food wages. Photo by Dylan Thomas
Rosheeda Credit said she can “barely afford” to raise her children on fast-food wages. Photo by Dylan Thomas

Credit, who attended the rally with her four-year-old son, Rovon, said she earns $9.50 an hour, two dollars over the state’s minimum wage, and is typically scheduled for 30 hours a week. When she finished speaking, the crowd responded with chants of “Fifteen now!”

City Council Member Jacob Frey (Ward 3) said his colleagues want time for “genuine engagement” with both workers and business owners. When higher wages take effect depends on how the ordinance is written — and whether it passes the Council — not, necessarily, whether the vote is taken this year or next, Frey added.

“Taking a vote sometime in early to mid 2017 doesn’t necessarily impact (the timing of) implementation,” he said.

Mike Griffin, field director for Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, said the Council as recently as last year considered a citywide minimum wage of $15 “virtually impossible. ”

“Now they’ve come back with a six-month timeline, and I feel like that’s a victory for workers,” Griffin said.

He said a coalition that includes NOC, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha and 15 Now Minnesota on Monday launched a ward-by-ward grassroots campaign focused on getting an ordinance passed “as soon as possible.” When pressed to clarify if “as soon as possible” meant this year, Griffin demurred — a subtle shift in NOC’s message since the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling.

“In a city with the worst racial gaps in the entire nation, we think this should be a priority for the City Council,” he said.

The Sept. 14 march down West Broadway Avenue began outside of a Wendy's restaurant. Photo by Dylan Thomas
The Sept. 14 march down West Broadway Avenue began outside of a Wendy’s restaurant. Photo by Dylan Thomas