House Expands Wage Bill

By Don Davis

The Minnesota House likely will approve a minimum wage increase later this week, after a committee Monday expanded the bill’s reach by doubling state-required parental leave for a new child.

Under the amended measure by Rep Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, employers would be required to grant 12-week leaves after a birth or adoption.

The House Ways and Means Committee tacked the provision onto Winkler’s bill that aims to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour in 2015 from today’s $6.15. Then the wage would automatically increase.

The bill also would eliminate a state law that requires employers to pay overtime to anyone working 48 hours a week, replacing it with 40 hours. Most businesses follow federal law, which already requires overtime for more than 40 hours.

Overall, Winkler said more than 350,000 Minnesotans would get a raise under his bill.

Republicans and business leaders generally said the higher wage would hurt Minnesota firms.

“There is no capacity on Main Street to absorb any more expense,” Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said.

Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said he talked to a restaurateur who makes $60,000 profit a year. The new minimum wage requirement would cost him $60,000, Nornes said.

“Why should he stay in business?” Nornes asked. “We’re going to lose some.”

However, Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, added: “It is a small number of businesses that will be hurt.”

Winkler’s bill would raise three categories of wages in three steps through 2015, then allow automatic raises pegged to inflation after that.

The current $6.15 an hour large employers must pay would rise to $9.50 in two years. Small employers would need to pay $8.50 and trainees would be paid $8.

The House bill also defines more companies as “small.” Now, a firm doing $625,000 of business in a year is considered small, but the Winkler bill lowers that figure to $500,000.

The bill senators are expected to approve would raise the large-employer wage from $6.15 to $7.25. No other changes are in the Senate measure.

The federal minimum wage, which governors many employers, stands at $7.25 but there is a movement in Washington to raise it.

John Rajkowski of the Minnesota Labor and Industry Department said about 93,000 Minnesotans now earn less than $7.25, with 42,000 in the eating and drinking industry.

Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said she is concerned about how the higher minimum wage would affect border cities such as Moorhead.

Dan McElroy of the Minnesota Restaurant Association said Moorhead leaders are trying to attract new restaurants. There are fewer full-service establishments, he said, because of more benefits to businesses located across the river in Fargo, N.D., where minimum wage is $4.89.

Farmers complained that lowering the 48-hour overtime limit would hurt them because their work does not fit into a neat 40-hour week. Nearby states do not put an overtime limit on farmers.

“Ag workers are not necessarily like factory workers where they can clock in and clock out,” Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, said.