COMMUNITY VOICES | Fight for a $15 per hour minimum wage: Next steps

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I am a candidate for the Minneapolis School Board, citywide seeking Green Party endorsement.

I am a School Board Candidate with a political agenda. To boil it done, politics is about who gets what and how. Instead of a war on poverty, there has been a war on the poor going on for the past 40 years. The rich are getting richer at the expense of more than 90% of the population, and at the expense of nature. There is no alternative to more of the same within the framework of the Democratic and Republican parties. That is why I am seeking endorsement of the Green Party and organizations willing to support independent, left-wing candidates.   

Why call for a $15 per hour minimum wage?

For most of the post World War II era until 1976, the federal minimum wage was increased every year to offset increased living costs, as measured by the Consumer Price Index. Minimum wage earners have since been getting less than full cost-of-living raises, and no increase in the minimum wage most years.

     If the federal minimum wage were to be adusted to reflect increases in the consumer price index since 1976, it would be at least $10.00 per hour. However, the formula used to measure increased living costs by the Consumer Price Index has been changed in ways that have reduced benefit amounts tied to the Consumer Price Index, such as Social Security retirement benefits.

     In 1968, the Minimum wage was high enough that one wage earner working 40 hours per week could support the average family of 4 in most of the US. Today, the official poverty line for a family of 2 adults and 2 children is about $24,000 per year, which is what one full-time wage earner (40 hours per week) would make with a wage of $12.00 per hour. However, I suspect that welfare benefits are factored in, such as the earned income credit, subsidized housing, and so forth. For a family of 4 not recieving such benefits, a wage of at least $15.00 per hour would be minimally required in most of the US. 

Two myths about the minimum wage

Myth #1: The minimum wage is mostly paid to young people just entering the labor market.

In fact only about 8% of minimum wage earners are 20 years old or younger. About 60% of those who earn the minimum wage are between the age of 25 and 55.

Myth #2: Increasing the minimum wage will lead to increased unemployment

Large hikes in the minimum wage have not triggared recessions or workforce shrinkage in the past 30 years. Small employers can generally survive a hike in the minimum wage. Hikes in the minimum wage lead to more spending by low wage earners, which can totally offset increased labor costs for some businesses. 

A minimum wage hike as an equitable remedy

     In Minneapolis, the latest buzz word is equity. In Minneapolis, racial disparites in employment and income are huge. Covert racial discrimination in employment and housing is widespread, resulting in high poverty rates for people of color, who are heavily segregated into high poverty neighborhoods. There is no government agency empowered to detect and prosecute those engaged in unlawful, covert racial discrimination in employment and housing. Access to the job market is also limited by unequal enforcement of criminal laws, especially drug laws, and unequal access to a quality, public education.

    An inequitable K-12 system and high costs of a college education also helps to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of whites at the expense of people of color. Education has a creditialling function. Many jobs require education beyond a high school level. Many managerial jobs require a four-year college degree, even when that much formal education is not necessary. A college degree is required for access to a sizable part of the job market. 

      The K-12 public school system in Minneapolis and St. Paul and most of the metro area has, by various means, concentrated people of color into high poverty schools where there are also more high needs children and inadequate services for them. It is estimated that as many as 40% of students in families with income below the poverty line experience “toxic” levels of emotional stress that interfere with learning in school. Students eligible for free or reduced price lunches include students from families with incomes up to 150% of the poverty line. All students eligible for free and reduced priced lunches are classified as being poor.

      Here I will mention just one policy that disadvantages children who are already disadvantaged by being poor and segregated into high poverty schools. It is well documented that the Minneapolis Public School maintains a large pool of teachers who are fired and replaced during their 3 year, post-probataionary period. Many of the probationary teachers have no prior teaching experience, and some have very little training, such as teachers placed by Teach For America, who have a college degree of some type, but only had 5 weeks of training as teachers. This situation is being perpetuated by an ongoing policy of firing and replacing most newly hired teachers during their probationary period. The district is presenting this as a teacher improvement strategy of retaining the best and firing the rest. The inexperienced teachers are concentrated in the high poverty schools. The high exposure of students to inexperience teachers and high teacher turnover in high poverty schools is actually reducing the quality of education, not increasing it. 

       Raising the minimum wage to even $10.00 per hour would reduce poverty rates, including child povery rates. Other reforms of public policy are needed to close “opportunity gaps.” However, to raise living standards of the working poor to 1968 standards would require a $15 per hour minimum wage.

The 15 Now Movement

       The 15 Now Movement is demanding a $15 minimum wage at the federal and state levels , and trying to directly implement that demand by supporting unionization of low wage workers. In Seattle, Washington, a socialist was elected to the City Council who called for a $15 per hour minimum wage, and is leading the effort to establish a $15 per hour minimum in Seattle via a popular referendum.

        Washington State already has a $10 per hour minimum wage, however, living costs are higher than average in Seattle, and $15 comes pretty close to being a “living wage in Seattle.” Washington state has a home rule provision in its constitution that gives cities the right to set their own minimum wage standards. A majority of states have home rule provisions in their constitutions, but the home rule provisions in some states, including Minnesota, expressly allow the legislature to restrict the powers of local government to a considerable degree. 

A minimum wage law in Minneapolis?

        I advocate a minimum wage law for Minneapolis, which could be put into effect by the City Council or by putting it to a popular vote via a referendum. However, a $15 minimum wage is probably not feasible, even if the labor movement is solidly behind it.

       An effort to put the issue on the ballot in Minneapolis might put some pressure on the legislature to hike the state minimum wage, and on the city council to enact a local minimum wage law or upgrade the City’s living wage ordinance to a minimum wage ordinance. 

        The Democratic Party is feeling pressure to increase the federal minimum wage, and is making this a campaign issue for the 2014 elections. An increase in the  federal minimum wage to $10.00 per hour appears to be what is currently advocated by President Barack Obama. There is a campaign for $9.50 in Minnesota with broad labor union support. But despite a Democratic Farmer Labor Party supermajority in the Minnesota House and Senate, and a DFL Governor, it looks like there will not be a minimum wage increase in Minnesota this year. The Minnesota minimum wage is only $6.15 per hour at its highest tier, $5.25 for small employers, and a $4.90 training wage. 

Arguments why a local minimum wage law in Minneapolis would be a reasonable exercise of muncipal power. 

      We can expect lawsuits or legislative action against a local minimum wage law in any city in Minnesota. Here are some arguments as to why the enactment of a minimum wage law by the City of Minneapolis is a reasonable excercise of municipal power. 

1) Rent and property taxes in low rent districts are higher in Minneapolis than in many suburbs 

2) State and metro housing policy has concentrated low income housing in high poverty areas in Minneapolis, which acts as an indirect subsidy to employers who pay their employees less than a living wage, and thereby helps to depress prevailing wage rates.

3) Raising the minimum wage would help to bring prevailing wages in Minneapolis in line with prevailing wages in the metro area for those who are performing work comparable to low wage earners in Minneapolis.    

4) Raising the minimum wage would help the working poor adequately support themselves and their families, and reduce the shockingly high levels of poverty for children attending Minneapolis Public Schools.

5) Raising the Minimum wage by the City of Minneapolis is an equitible measure to reduce the harmful effect of racial discrimination that has heavily concentrated people of color in the lowest paying jobs. The failure of the state to set a minimum wage that is adequate for the City of Minneapolis makes it reasonable for the City of Minneapolis to set a higher standard than the state of Minnesota.

6) Enacting a local minimum wage law in Minneapolis is in harmony with Minnesota Fair Labor Standards and is a necessary supplement to it.   

[Minnesota Statutes, section] 177.22 STATEMENT OF PURPOSE.

“The purpose of the Minnesota Fair Labor Standards Act is (1) to establish minimum wage and overtime compensation standards that maintain workers’ health, efficiency, and general well-being; (2) to safeguard existing minimum wage and overtime compensation standards that maintain workers’ health, efficiency, and general well-being against the unfair competition of wage and hour standards that do not; and (3) to sustain purchasing power and increase employment opportunities.

      If we are going to attempt to pass a charter amendment raising the Minimum wage in Minneapolis, we need to get the amendment drafted and get going on a petitioning campaign within the next few weeks. We also need to get a legal team to work on preparing a legal defense of the local minimum wage ordinance that we put forward. Petitions have to be turned in with adequate numbers of signatures by the end of May.  We need to be ready to immediately file a writ of mandamus to force the charter commission to put the propose amendment on the ballot. And we should also expect legal challenges from employer associations, etc.

Update: Legal arguments for local minimum wage standards


Appendix

     

Labor standards and wages
https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=177&view=chapter

 

Minnesota Constitution Article 12, section 4, home rule charter

https://www.revisor.mn.gov/constitution/#article_12

 

Minnesota Statutes 410, local government, charters

https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/statutes/?id=410

 

Municipal Home Rule in the United States (1968)   

http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2835&context=wmlr

 

Doug Mann’s reply to City Attorney in district court, Doug Mann v. Minneapolis City Council 

http://forums.e-democracy.org/groups/mpls/files/f/bC47c6eRhSChvAI5r6PT9ZEVREW-sE1-2qfOtjc/Reply_to_City_Attorney_copy.pdf

 

Constitutional and Legislative Limitations of the Home Rule Charter in Minnesota

Michigan Law review (Nov 1906)

http://www.jstor.org/stable/1273645?seq=1

 

State “preemption” after the fact of Madison’s minimum wage law

http://hosted.law.wisc.edu/lawreview/issues/2007-1/burchill.pdf

 

National employment law project

http://www.nelp.org/content/content_issues/category/citywide_minimum_wage/

 

GADEY v. CITY OF MINNEAPOLISNO. C0-93-2380.

517 N.W.2d 344 (1994)

Northern Pac. Ry. v. City of Duluth, 153 Minn. 122, 125, 189 N.W. 937, 939 (1922). So long as the municipal legislation involves matters of municipal concern and the state has not expressly or impliedly restricted the municipality’s power over these matters, the municipality may enact local legislation that is inconsistent with state law. Park v. City of Duluth, 134 Minn. 296, 298-99, 159 N.W. 627, 628 (1916). Charter provisions will be given effect even where they “differ in details from those of existing general laws.” Grant v. Berrisford, 94 Minn. 45, 48, 101 N.W. 940, 942 (1904); accord Board of Ed. of City of Minneapolis v. Erickson, 209 Minn. 39, 42, 295 N.W. 302, 304 (1940) (levy limit imposed by charter effective and board had no emergency power to exceed it); Op.Att’y Gen. 707a-4 (August 1, 1955) (council may elect to levy under charter or Minn.Stat. ch. 429, but when one or other is chosen, council must follow its provisions throughout assessment proceeding). A charter may, however, incorporate state law by reference. Freding v. City of Minneapolis, 177 Minn. 122, 125, 224 N.W. 845, 847 (1929). Thus, where the city elects to proceed under its charter, state law does not automatically apply unless the charter so states or the state legislature has expressly or impliedly made the charter subject to state law.