Gov. Mark Dayton, labor activists and House members made an appearance at the Minnesota State Fair on Tuesday to renew a push to raise the state’s minimum wage from $6.15 per hour to $9.50 by 2015.
“I’ve been for what I call a living wage since my first campaign for the U.S. Senate. I believe the minimum wage ought to be at a level where a person working full-time can earn enough money to keep a family of four at poverty level,” Dayton said, standing under the AFL-CIO union pavilion in 95 degree heat. “To me, this is as conservative of a principle as they get. Let’s get people off of the need of government assistance and let’s let them earn what they deserve and earn what they should in the workplace and we will have a stronger economy.”
Most minimum wage workers in the state are paid the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour, but DFL lawmakers in the majority pushed for an increase last session. DFL Rep. Ryan Winkler carried and passed a bill in the House that would have raised the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour, while the Senate passed a bill, authored by DFL Sen. Chris Eaton, that would raise the minimum wage to $7.75 per hour. That proposal passed off the Senate floor by only one vote.
But when it came time for conference committee on the two bills, neither chamber seemed willing to budge on their original position. As session came to a close without a compromise, Winkler claimed that the minimum wage had been used as a bargaining chip by Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk in end-of-session negotiations to pass a bonding bill. Bakk has denied that, attributing his hesitation to the measure’s possible negative impact on small businesses in rural Minnesota, especially border communities.
“We kind of thought minimum wage would happen because there was so much agreement, but I think it took a little bit more work than we were expecting,” Winkler told supporters. “I think Sen. Bakk is an extremely effective legislative negotiator, so I always put that into context with the comments he makes. The fact is that every empirical look at minimum wage increases has shown no job loss.”
Looking ahead at the 2014 session, legislators and union leaders know they’ll again find a challenge in bringing the Senate to an agreement. Winkler encouraged minimum wage hike supporters to go to individual senators’ districts around the state to talk about the issue. DFL Reps. Phyllis Kahn and Tim Mahoney, who were also at the press conference, suggested supporters head over to the Senate fair booth to tell them they want minimum wage bill passed.
The AFL-CIO is also bringing on several other groups to help with the push this year, including The Children’s Defense Fund of Minnesota, the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition and Working America-Minnesota.
“We came close to passing this strong, strong bill,” AFL-CIO local president Shar Knutson said. “There were a lot of things going on in this last session… We are working as hard and harder and we are bringing a bigger coalition together to make sure that they understand that Minnesotans want a raise in the minimum wage.”
Workers also pleaded for an increase. MSP Airport worker Abdi Ali makes minimum wage pushing wheelchair-bound passengers from point to point at the airport. “I like my job and I like helping people, but I am only making $7.25 an hour and sometimes I cannot pay my rent or my other bills,” he said. “I don’t want to have to ask the state to help pay for my health insurance or low-income housing.”