State lawmakers announce agreement on raising minimum wage

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After being deadlocked for weeks, state lawmakers announced an agreement Monday to raise Minnesota’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour and index it to inflation. Legislative leaders said pressure from citizens was critical to moving forward.

“When Minnesotans speak with a strong voice . . . good things happen here,” said the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and House Speaker Paul Thissen said they expect legislation to be passed and on Governor Mark Dayton’s desk by the end of the week. The measure would:

  • Raise Minnesota’s minimum wage from the current $6.15 an hour to $9.50 an hour by 2016;
  • Provide a lower increase to $7.75 in 2016 for employees of small companies (defined as doing $500,000 or less per year in business)
  • Index the minimum wage to adjust with the cost of living, by up to 2.5 percent annually, starting in 2018;
  • Allow the Commissioner of the state Department of Labor and Industry to suspend inflation-adjusted increases if warranted by economic conditions.

Bakk said the option to suspend an inflation-adjusted increase and the inclusion of a training wage for young workers were key factors leading to agreement during talks between the House and Senate that took place last week.

Starting in January and continuing throughout the legislative session that began Feb. 25, state lawmakers received thousands of office visits, phone calls, e-mails and postcards supporting a minimum wage increase.

The massive mobilization was coordinated by the Raise the Wage Coalition, composed of community, faith, labor, non-profit and service-based organizations.

Raise the Wage Coalition co-chairs Peggy Flanagan, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund, Minnesota; Brian Rusche, executive director of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition; and Shar Knutson, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, called Monday’s announcement “great news for all Minnesotans, but especially the 357,000 working Minnesotans and 137,000 children whose lives will improve as their family incomes go up.”

The coalition was formed to get Minnesota’s minimum wage to catch up to $9.50 and keep up by adjusting the wage to reflect increases in the cost of living.

“This plan accomplishes that goal,” the co-chairs said. “That’s why we support this agreement and thank the bill authors, along with Senate and House leaders for their tireless work.

“This agreement sends a message that in Minnesota, hard work is valued. It also ensures that Minnesota’s minimum wage will no longer lose value every year and low-wage workers won’t have to wait another decade for a raise.”

Individual organizations also praised the agreement:

  • “A full-time worker should have the opportunity to afford stable housing. The minimum wage increase is a huge step forward for thousands of families who cannot afford a place to live,“ Liz Kuoppala, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless stated. Approximately 1 in 4 homeless adults in Minnesota work part-time; 1 in 12 work full-time. About 60 percent of homeless workers earn $10 per hour or less, according to Wilder Research.
  • “SEIU members in the healthcare field have seen the damaging effects that poverty wages have on families in our state, which is why we are excited for the agreement reached earlier today to raise the Minnesota minimum wage and index it to inflation,” said Jamie Gulley, president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. “Recent studies have shown the negative health impacts of low wages, a fact SEIU Healthcare members know all too well. Our members understand that raising the wage, and indexing it to inflation so it doesn’t lose purchasing power, will improve the lives of working families in Minnesota who have been left behind for far too long. ”
  • “SEIU members want to acknowledge the people-powered Raise The Wage coalition of faith, labor, and community groups who worked so hard to make this increase happen. We also thank the authors and conference committee lead negotiators, Representative Ryan Winker and Senator Chris Eaton, for their efforts to put Minnesota workers first. Their work to ensure the economic dignity of all families in our state was noticed and appreciated by the members of SEIU,” said Javier Morillo, president of SEIU Local 26. “The coalition, along with legislative champions, worked tirelessly so Minnesota workers at or near minimum wage finally have a chance to not only catch up, but keep up, guaranteeing they won’t have to fear that their wage will lose value each year.”
  • “Our members in publics schools around the state know that the 137,000 children whose parents will see a raise because of this legislation will have a better chance to flourish because of this bill,” said Carol Nieters, executive director of SEIU Local 284. “Our members know that fair wages and good benefits bring stability to families, and this victory can and should be a rallying point for a continued focus on improving the lives of working families across the state.”

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