The Senate passed legislation by a 39-28 vote on Wednesday that would increase the minimum wage to $7.75 an hour for large employers by 2015. All DFLers voted in favor of the measure, while all Republicans cast dissenting votes.
The Senate proposal stands in stark contrast to the House bill, which boosts the wage floor up to $9.50 an hour and pegs it to inflation going forward. DFL legislators will now seek to reconcile the two proposals in a conference committee.
Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, the chief sponsor of the bill, pointed out that Minnesota is currently one of just four states nationwide that has a minimum wage below the federal level of $7.25 an hour. The current rate of $6.15 an hour hasn’t been raised since 2005, although most employers adhere to the federal minimum.
“Increasing the minimum wage is the right thing to do for Minnesota’s low wage workers,” Eaton said.
The Senate bill defines large employers as those with revenues above $625,000 annually. For other businesses the minimum wage will remain at $5.25 an hour.
Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, offered an amendment that would have exempted some employees who receive tips on top of their base salary from the minimum wage increase. His proposal would have allowed workers whose total compensation is above $12 an hour to be paid a base of $7.25 an hour, but the amendment was not adopted.
Republicans argued that increasing the minimum wage will either cause companies to shed employees or raise prices. “We must think we’re pretty important people to dictate all these policies to the people of Minnesota,” said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.
But DFLers countered that low-wage workers will immediately spend any increase in pay, providing a needed stimulus to the economy. “These are not just children anymore like it used to be,” Eaton said. “These are families.”
While all Republicans voted against the bill, they also made it clear that they prefer the Senate version of the bill to its companion measure in the House. Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, offered some advice for the looming conference committee. “If they demand to have their way, I’d walk away from the table,” Westrom said.