By Don Davis
Minnesota’s minimum wage likely will rise after the House voted 68-62 Friday to increase it to $9.50 an hour, but the question is how high it will go.
The House voted to up the minimum wage paid by large employers, gradually raising it to $9.50 an hour in two years, and allow it to rise up to 2.5 percent a year after that.
“Historically, Minnesota has been a state of high productivity …” said bill sponsor Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. “Unfortunately, today a majority of Minnesotans in the labor force are earning less money than they did a decade ago.”
He said that with the current $6.15-an-hour state minimum wage, parents with two children need to work 150 hours a week each “to meet minimum needs.”
The Senate is expected to vote on its smaller wage increase Wednesday. Its current plan is a $7.75 wage, but a House-Senate conference committee would make the final decision.
Gov. Mark Dayton supports a wage in line with the House level.
House members approved the wage increase generally along party lines.
Winkler, who said the bill would give 350,000 Minnesotans pay raises, said women and low-income workers would be especially helped.
The biggest change to Winkler’s bill was to drop his provision requiring employers to pay agriculture workers overtime for time worked more than 40 hours. An amendment that passed 99-30 kept the current 48-hour limit.
“In the agriculture world, it is important that we use the 48 hours …” said Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston. “It helps us extend those days when we need to when the weather is changing.”
Winkler said he thinks the 40-hour limit is the best, but did not fight Rep. Jeanne Poppe’s amendment to keep it at 48. The Austin Democrat said her amendment “is a balance.”
“Things are different in rural Minnesota,” said Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck. “We put in long days.”
“We have to be competitive,” Anderson added. “Our neighboring states don’t have these kinds of regulations.”
Others also said they are concerned about how neighboring states’ lower wages would affect Minnesota businesses.
“I’m concerned that this legislation and several other pieces of legislation … are making us less competitive,” said Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau.
Despite Republican claims that a higher wage would hurt businesses, Winkler said that his proposal actually would help them because it would increase demand for the products and services they are selling.
Winkler said businesses in rural areas, such as where he grew up in Bemidji, could benefit more than urban firms because it would greatly increase money available for purchases.
“I actually have businesses that will close,” Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, countered.
Democrats disagreed, saying Minnesotans would receive benefits from higher wages.
“It is about doing something for the little people around the state …” said Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia. “It is about paying people enough to get by.”
When mines, paper plants and other businesses close, “your fallback job is a minimum wage job,” said Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township.
“Find it in your heart to give low-wage workers a couple extra bucks an hour so they can stay in their communities and raise their families,” he added.
The current state minimum wage of $6.15 is trumped by a federal $7.25 requirement for many businesses. If Minnesota raises its wage higher than the federal level, the state figure will govern.
The $9.50 wage is for large employers. It would go up in three steps, beginning with an $8 requirement this summer. Small employers would pay $8.50 an hour by 2015.
Beginning in 2016, the state minimum wage would be tied to inflation, capped at annual increases of 2.5 percent.
Minnesota, Georgia, Wyoming and Arkansas are the only states with minimum wages lower than the federal level.
Reporter Danielle Killey contributed to this story.