MN Legislature Considers Uniform Labor Standards
The quest for uniform state labor standards was launched in February at the Minnesota Capitol. Bills are making their way through House and Senate committees, and are drawing crowds. Business advocates and many business owners contend they cannot deal with a hodgepodge of regulations that differ by city. Opponents of the bills argue the regulations are needed to protect workers and that local rules could set a course for the entire state.
Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) is the House lead author of the bill that would also preempt local labor ordinances such as those passed in Minneapolis and St. Paul requiring employers to provide paid sick and safe leave.
“There are 854 cities in our state,” he said. “If every city has its own labor policies, it will be impossible to do business in our state.”
Sen. Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) is a fourth generation small-family business owner and the Senate lead author. Like Garofalo he is concerned about having several sets of regulations.
“We ask small businesses to follow so many regulations already, to have them follow regulations that can vary city by city is too much to ask,” he said. Miller also is worried about businesses such as restaurants, which have locations in more than one city. He said recordkeeping and payroll could become a nightmare if different cities can enact different regulations.
“Eight cities have initiatives and referendums in our state,” Garofalo added. “You can expect many special-interest groups to bypass city councils and push their own agendas. This will lead to many divisive fights at the local level.”
Both legislators said their intent is to protect jobs and keep the state moving in a positive economic direction.
The House Jobs Growth Committee has been just one of the battlegrounds. Bill supporters and opponents packed the hearing room February 2 to make their case. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Minnesota Restaurant Association and other retail, trucking and temporary staffing representatives were on hand to support the bill. They raised a number of arguments, including the likelihood of confusion and possible litigation against businesses trying to comply with multiple rules in multiple cities.
Unions, including the AFL-CIO, SEIU and Minneapolis workers’ center CTUL, joined with a number of faith-based organizations and other activists to oppose the bill. Foes said it would take away worker protections the state doesn’t provide.
If signed into law the measure would ban local employment regulations on mandatory paid leave, minimum wage rules, employee scheduling ordinances and minimum benefits or working conditions. Its effective date would be January 2016, meaning it would apply retroactively to all ordinances, policies and resolutions enacted since then.
The Minneapolis and St. Paul sick leave ordinances were cited by several bill supporters who said businesses with more than one location face a confusing patchwork of rules. Minneapolis exempts businesses with six or fewer workers from its mandate; St. Paul does not. St. Paul’s ordinance is one of the most stringent in the country.
The legislation may not fare well with Gov. Mark Dayton, who has indicated that while he’d discuss statewide standards, he doesn’t want to see workers hurt financially.
DFLers criticized the measure and said it is counter to longstanding Republican calls for local control. Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul) called it “really shameful.”
Cam Winton of the Minnesota Chamber said his members already deal with complex regulations as they run their businesses. “Having regulations that differ city by city creates the potential for even more problems.”
Minnesota Chamber’s 2017 legislative platform is led by a call for flexibility, and to not have what Winton called “one-size-fits-all” mandates that control the employer-employee relationship.
Winton said Minnesota Chamber agrees with providing employees with good benefits, as a means of retaining workers. The legislative platform calls for broadly sharing employers’ best practices so all businesses in the state are aware of nonregulatory approaches to workplace rules and employee relations that will help them compete for and retain the best employees.
But local mandates, the chamber said, take away from employers’ need to provide benefits that are appropriate for each workplace. Minnesota Chamber is supporting measures to expand access to paid leave that are voluntary, market-based, offer choices, ensure flexibility and carefully consider costs and benefits. One example is to enact policy changes that make it easier for private sector workers to buy short-term disability policies in the private insurance market.
Minnesota Chamber and other plaintiffs have taken Minneapolis to court over its earned sick and safe time mandate.
Deepak Nath owns The Pourhouse bar in Minneapolis. He spoke for the bill, and brought up Minneapolis efforts to have a $15 minimum wage.
“Allowing any city to create wage laws like this is picking winners and losers,” Nath said. “I can’t afford rogue actions like this.”
Doug Sams owns D. Brian’s Catering, which has locations in Minneapolis, Bloomington, St. Louis Park and Edina. Sams said he and other restaurant owners are being placed in the position of having different sets of rules for different employees by city.
“I’m looking at this as a challenge for me to keep my family together,” he said.
Many workers testified February 2 to oppose the bill, as did some small business owners.
“To take away our local control of things is nothing more than an intrusion,” said Todd Mikkelson, a small business owner from Orono. He said small businesses have more access to city councils, and that access to them shouldn’t be stifled by the state.