Attempts by cities to set regulations governing employee wages and benefits in the private sector are anathema to many of this state’s employers. Pre-empting the paid sick- and safe-leave ordinances enacted last year in Minneapolis and St. Paul and stopping similar moves in their tracks is a top priority of the state’s business lobby. It expects staunch support from the Republicans who control the Legislature.
Meanwhile, blocking pre-emption bills is a top priority for a number of labor and social-justice organizations. They look to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton as their defender in preserving the opportunity for cities to set their own minimum wages and paid-leave rules for employers in their jurisdictions.
Here’s a plea to Dayton and Republican legislators: Don’t get stuck in the roles that your respective allies want you to play. Wage and benefit regulations are too crucial to the Minnesota economy for you to settle this year for a series of party-line votes on an ultimately vetoed bill. Tell your business and labor friends to get busy crafting a compromise — and nudge them with dealmaking ideas of your own.
We have a few possibilities in mind.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board disapproves of municipalities going their own way on wage and benefit rules. We’ve argued that one-size-fits-all sick pay regulations such as those enacted in Minneapolis and St. Paul allow for too little flexibility to fairly accommodate the huge variety of jobs and fast-changing industries in the modern economy. Further, by acting in isolation, cities are threatening to burden multijurisdiction employers with a patchwork of conflicting regulations. They are bound to tempt some employers to move elsewhere or stay away.
But it’s neither politically realistic nor morally satisfactory for state government to just say no to seekers of decent wages and benefits for working people. Implicit in the layman’s, if not the legal, notion of pre-emption is that state government will shoulder responsibility in policy areas in which it blocks local action.
Take the minimum wage. If — as we think it should — state government stops the moves now afoot in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth for an arbitrarily high $15 hourly minimum and denies other cities the opportunity to set their own wage floors, it should also acknowledge that the current $9.50 state minimum is too low. The Legislature last increased the minimum wage in 2014, enacting a series of three 50-cent increases over three years. Putting several more increases on the calendar to arrive at $11 by 2020 would not be unreasonable.
That would boost the minimum at a faster pace than will the annual inflationary increases that were part of the 2014 change and are due to commence next Jan. 1, likely with an initial boost of only about 10 cents. We’ve long been wary of automatic inflaters, and would welcome that provision’s removal from current law in the bargain.
Likewise, if state government tells cities they cannot require businesses to provide paid sick leave, it should encourage employers to voluntarily offer that benefit. At a minimum, the Legislature should approve paid parenting leave for state employees — as their unions negotiated last year with the Dayton administration — applying some competitive pressure that’s bound to be felt in Minnesota’s increasingly tight labor market.
Lawmakers also might explore whether a quasi-public voluntary paid-leave pool could be created to assist small employers seeking a more affordable way to offer that benefit. That notion springs from our recollection of the intense business-labor battle at the Legislature 25 years ago over workers’ compensation. It finally disappeared from legislative agendas when legislators insisted that a business-labor advisory council resolve disputes itself rather than bringing every complaint to the Capitol. The state also created a nonprofit reinsurance pool, the Workers Compensation Reinsurance Association, that brought down costs.
Not many legislators were in office when “workers’ comp” evoked the same passions from the same players that the pre-emption dispute has this year. But Dayton was, as state auditor. He may have been recalling that fight when he recently said that while he will oppose “a one-sided proposal benefiting businesses … . I would be willing to look at a balanced bill that includes issues like the current minimum wage and family sick leave.” Pre-emption foes and fans should take those words as their cue: Start compromising.
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