Minnesota Chamber of Commerce sues to stop sick time ordinance

Lawsuit claims ordinance conflicts with state law and puts a burden on businesses

A lawsuit filed by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce in Hennepin County District Court on Friday aims to halt implementation of Minneapolis’ new safe and sick time ordinance.

Approved by the City Council this spring, the ordinance requires most businesses with at least six employees to offer one hour of sick and safe leave for every 30 hours worked, accruing to a maximum of 48 hours per year. It is scheduled to go into effect July 1.

The chamber is seeking a temporary injunction to stop the city from enforcing the ordinance. With its five co-plaintiffs, the chamber is also asking a judge to strike down an ordinance chamber spokesman Cam Winton said was “well-intentioned” but “unlawful” for creating conflicts with existing state laws.

“The state of Minnesota has weighed-in extensively in the area of workplace mandates and specifically in paid sick leave, but along comes Minneapolis and they’ve created a conflicting ordinance,” Winton said.

The co-plaintiffs include Minnesota Recruiting and Staffing Association, National Federation of Independent Business, TwinWest Chamber of Commerce, Graco Inc. and Otogawa-Anschel General Contractors and Consultants.

The filing of the lawsuit prompted a critical response from Main Street Alliance of Minnesota, the state branch of a national small-business coalition. In a statement issued Friday, alliance member Andy Pappacosta, who works as an events coordinator at South Minneapolis restaurant Gandhi Mahal, said the lawsuit “does not represent many small business owners who have deep roots in our community.

“The ordinance that was passed represents a compromise that was negotiated and supported by a vast majority of our community, including small businesses like us,” Pappacosta said in the statement.

Also quoted in the statement was Common Roots Café owner and alliance member Danny Schwartzman, who said: “The Chamber presents no solution beyond the idea that businesses could voluntarily provide sick pay benefits, which is suggesting exactly the system we have now that fails so many low wage workers and is bad for our community.”

Other alliance members described the lawsuit as a costly distraction for the city at a time when it should be focusing its resources on working with businesses to prepare for implementation of the new sick and safe time ordinance.

Winton said the chamber filed the lawsuit now because businesses are already feeling the burden of compliance. Using the city’s formula to calculate employee sick time was “the tip of the iceberg,” Winton said, adding that a much more complicated matter is determining when a business has to comply with the ordinance, since it only applies to employees who work within city limits at least 80 hours a year.

Winton said that makes it complicated for businesses that staff delivery drivers, for example, to know when, exactly, trips into and out of Minneapolis add up to a total of 80 hours. Winton said the ordinance creates a burden for one of the co-plaintiffs, Graco, a manufacturer that operates three Minnesota production facilities and has employees who move between the three locations, including one in Northeast Minneapolis.

“With this new law, they’ll have to track the amount of time employees spend in each location,” he said.

Kathleen Harrell-Latham, an attorney for the Minnesota Recruiting and Staffing Association, said that’s also a major issue for the state’s workplace staffing industry. The nature of work now, Harrell-Latham said, is that workers don’t just stay in one place; they’re mobile.

“The problem gets into the nuts and bolts and logistics of complying with the ordinance itself,” she said.

In September, the St. Paul City Council passed that city’s own version of a sick and safe time ordinance, and another is under consideration in Duluth. The lawsuit also aims to halt the development of what Winton described as a “patchwork” regulatory framework for businesses that operate in Minnesota.

According to online district court records, no court date had been set for the lawsuit as of Friday afternoon.