Federal conformity, higher minimum wage sought

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An increased minimum wage, longer leave for birth or adoption and changes in overtime are the key components of a bill aimed to help workers.

Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia) said the bill he sponsors, HF763, has two pieces of federal conformity within it; however, it would also increase the state’s minimum wage to a level more than $1 higher than the federal rate.

The House Jobs and Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee held the amended bill over Thursday for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill. A companion, SF641, sponsored by Sen. Dan Sparks (DFL-Austin), awaits action by the Senate Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.

“The reason we need to do these things are because we think, at the department, by creating more clarity and making it easier for both employers and employees to understand what the expectations are under Minnesota law will help increase compliance with those laws,” said Jessica Looman, assistant commissioner at the Department of Labor and Industry.

The bill would change when overtime must be paid to an employee from after 48 hours of work to 40 hours, and would change the state’s parental leave law from six weeks of unpaid leave to 12 weeks of unpaid leave upon the birth or adoption of a child.

However, the provision that generated all of the discussion was increasing the state’s minimum wage to $8.50 an hour for all employers with future increases based on inflation. Minnesota’s current minimum wage is $6.15 an hour for large employers and $5.25 for small ones. However, many workers receive the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Looman said Gov. Mark Dayton has indicated he’d be comfortable with a state hourly minimum wage of $9 or $9.50.

Rep. Andrea Kieffer (R-Woodbury) asked why Metsa would want to meet federal standards for overtime and paternity leave, but exceed the wage.

“I believe it needed to be a little higher,” Metsa said. “It is conforming in the essence that we are exceeding that $7.25 mark.”

Metsa added that 19 states have a minimum wage greater than $7.25; 22 states use the federal rate for their minimum wage; four states, including Minnesota, are lower than the federal rate and five states have no minimum wage requirement. He also said 34 states or territories require overtime pay for working over 40 hours.