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MRA Report: Minimum Wage Opinions Wanted

My absolute favorite holiday of the year will have passed by the time you receive this issue. St. Patrick’s Day is special to those of us with green blood and to others who just like the occasion. It has also been good for many in the restaurant business. It fell on a Friday in Lent this year, so the most common dish de jour was perhaps a fish fry rather than corned beef and cabbage. I surely hope no one made green fish to go with green beer, a sacrilegious tradition in my opinion.

Now on to business. The effort to impact the minimum wage debate in Minneapolis that was explained in this column last month has gained momentum. The Pathway to $15 idea was launched with a press release that listed more than 100 Minneapolis restaurant locations in support. The idea has gained significant grassroots support, including from tipped employees. Please “like” the Pathway to $15 Facebook page to follow news and developments.

The website for the effort is at www.pathwayto15.org. You can easily send an email to a Minneapolis City Council member and the mayor from the page. There is also information about listening sessions and events in support of the campaign. Although the Minnesota Restaurant Association helped start this effort, it has become much broader and more organic over the last few months. A large group of businesses and individuals are now part of the Minneapolis Restaurant Forum in support of the key goals of the Pathway to $15 principles:

Recognize total taxable income, including tips, in setting the wage. The campaign supports a $15 wage for all, with the cash wage for tipped employees set at $9.50 an hour if employees’ average earnings for a pay period are $15 an hour or more. This approach protects those whose tip income is low without penalizing other tipped workers. There is no upper limit on what an employee can earn.

Include a youth wage for workers less than 18 years of age.

Define a large business for purposes of the phase-in schedule based on employment in Minneapolis, not nationwide.

Phase the higher wage in over a reasonable period of time.

We expect the minimum wage and how tips are treated to be an issue at the city political caucuses this month. City staff is expected to report to the council in early May on what they have heard during the listening sessions. If you have an opinion on how the minimum wage should be addressed in Minneapolis, and likely in other cities as well, now is the time to speak up! Go to Pathwayto15.org to express your opinion.

The Minnesota Legislature has been in session since January and has less than two months remaining until its constitutionally required adjournment on May 22. A high priority for our industry is the proposal for uniform labor standards in Minnesota, often referred to as preemption because it makes clear that cities or counties can’t enact their own wages or mandates. The bill, HF 600, has passed in the House. The Senate version, SF 580, is awaiting a vote at the time this column is being written. Governor Dayton has said he will only consider signing a final bill that balances the interests of workers and employers, so stay tuned for further developments.  

Because this issue is so important, we are working on both the state bill for uniform regulation and the Pathway to $15 approach to a city ordinance in Minneapolis. Uniformity is the best outcome for the state, but we can’t be certain that will happen and need to work with the city council and staff in Minneapolis so that an ordinance, if passed, is fair to all and recognizes the importance of tipped positions. Opponents call our proposal a tip penalty but most servers and bartenders see tips as a really great opportunity.

Many of the other issues that are important to the foodservice industry remain to be dealt with during the remaining weeks of the session. Those measures include:

A sales tax exemption for foodservice equipment, employee meals, and comp meals or drinks given to guests.

A vendor collection allowance to pay part of the costs incurred by businesses in collecting and remitting the sales tax.

A proposal by the Department of Health to change its fee structure from one based mainly on the size of a restaurant to a system that combines size and the risk of foodborne illness.

Whether or not a special driving credential for immigrant workers will be included in the “Real ID” legislation.

We will know a great deal more about these and other issues by the time of the May issue.  You can check our website at www.mnrestaurant.org for news in the meantime. 

And last but not least: The annual Minnesota ProStart Invitational for high school students was held March 9 at Sysco Minnesota. Our thanks to Foodservice News for writing about this annual competition (check out the full story and some great photos from Laura Michaels on page 14). We had more teams than ever competing, which is encouraging. Congratulations to  Elk River High School for winning the culinary competition and to Sauk Rapids-RIce High School, the winner of the management competition.

Dan McElroy is executive vice president of the Minnesota Restaurant Association and president and CEO of Hospitality Minnesota, which also includes the Lodging and Resort & Campground associations.

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