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St. Paul Roundup: City Tackles Minimum Wage for Teens and Disabled

In St. Paul’s move toward a $15 per hour minimum wage, much attention in the hospitality community is focused on tips and how those should be factored in. But for other restaurant owners and workers, there is another concern. How would a minimum-wage increase affect employers who hire teens for their first jobs? And what about people with disabilities, who are often mainstays in the back of the house as they handle dish room and prep tasks?

Those questions were scrutinized as St. Paul City Council members prepared for the introduction of the city’s minimum wage ordinance in October. The measure is expected to have a public hearing in November. No date was set as Foodservice News went to press. 

In testimony at a September public hearing, and at a series of listening sessions, workers on both sides of the wage coin weighed in. Several fast-food workers, including teenage workers, said they need to be paid more. Young workers said their jobs help support their families and shouldn’t be considered as extra spending money.

Doug Swalboski’s family owns and operates the Culver’s restaurant on Old Hudson Road, by SunRay Center. They have been in business for 16 years and have about 40 employees. “We love being on the East Side,” he said. “We hire from the neighborhood.” Although Culver’s is a franchise business, “we’re family owned, and we make the decisions.”

 Culver’s has five team members with disabilities, and 22 workers who are age 18 and younger. “Seventy-five percent of our workers are people with disabilities or young adults,” Swalboski said. He’s concerned that a higher minimum wage and a youth wage phase-out will mean that fewer fast-food employers will be able to hire young people.

But Joe Helsa, a teacher at St. Paul Central High School, said there should be no youth wage. “This ordinance will determine the fate of my students and their families. Students need $15 per hour as much as adults do … McDonald’s can pay $15 per hour right now.”

Bob Brick, CEO and president of ALLY People Solutions, which helps people with disabilities find employment and obtain life-skills training, was on the study task force. He explained that workers with disabilities can receive employment support services from providers that are licensed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. These support services enable program participants to obtain jobs and learn, while contributing to the success of businesses. 

“Experience tells us that when the minimum wage increases, these individuals are among the first to lose jobs or to have work hours reduced, thus affecting their quality of life. The committee recommendation will allow them to continue earning the state minimum wage or more, while receiving licensed support services,” he said.

With Mayor Melvin Carter III and a majority of City Council members favoring an increase to $15 per hour, many issues are being weighed. Although a Citizens League-led task force studied the wage issue for several weeks this summer, and made recommendations on youth training wages, the issue of wages for people with disabilities was left unresolved. City Council Member Chris Tolbert, whose office is drafting the ordinance, is continuing to look at training wages and wages for people with disabilities as the ordinance is being prepared.

“The youth wage, and the wages for workers with disabilities, are issues that can have many nuances,” Tolbert said. “We will have to look at them carefully.”

City Council Member Jane Prince is asking for more study of immigrant-owned micro-businesses. She said those businesses, including small, family-run restaurants, may only have a few workers. The study and the weeks of input haven’t brought forward a response from that sector, she said.

That’s also a concern raised by Angela Marlow, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association. She pointed out that immigrants often pool their resources and build wealth over the course of time. That may not be possible with a higher minimum wage.

The Citizens League recommended three versions of a minimum wage requirement. All call for a $15 per hour minimum, indexed to inflation. All call for exemptions for disability employment programs.

Youth training wages have some differences. Programs need city approval, with recommendations for 180 or 365 days.

Phase-in times for the task force recommendations vary from six to seven years for small businesses and four to five for large businesses. What defines a large or small business is ultimately up to the City Council.

Much of St. Paul’s ordinance follows Minneapolis, which last year passed a seven-year phase-in for a $15 minimum wage, along with no tip credit. 

St. Paul Roundup 

The to-go packaging restrictions tabled one year ago by the St. Paul City Council are back. The St. Paul City Council October 3 laid out an ordinance that would bar restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, convenience stores and delis from using carryout containers that cannot be recycled or composted.

A vote on next steps was held over until November 7. Council members Jane Prince and Mitra Nelson are working on a timeline and action steps with the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections and Mayor Carter’s administration.

One year ago, City Council members defeated the proposed ban in the “Sustainable To Go packaging ordinance” on a 2 to 5 vote. The council majority was concerned about the impacts on small businesses that are struggling with other city-imposed regulations. A resolution was then passed to revisit the issue in one year.

“That sure came back fast,” said Council President Amy Brendmoen. She supported the layover, saying the city needs to pass a sensible ban.

Businesses were split, with some saying they cannot find cost-effective products that meet specific needs. Others said that as prices have gone down, it’s easier to make the switch.

Brendmoen was one of two council votes in support of the ban, along with then-Council President Russ Stark. Stark is now Carter’s chief resiliency officer and leads efforts on environmental issues. 

How much needs to be done in five weeks is still taking shape. Last year, the resolution delaying the ban called for business outreach and education to help businesses get ready for the ban’s eventual passage. But then-Mayor Chris Coleman balked at having staff do such work without an approved ban and the proposal stalled.

Changes are coming to the restaurant community. O’Gara’s Bar and Grill at Selby and Snelling closed its doors in late September. The 77-year-old bar and restaurant is making way for a new mixed-use development, with Ryan Companies is leading the project. A new, much smaller O’Gara’s will be part of the new space when it is completed. In the meantime, anyone wanting to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at O’Gara’s in 2019 is out of luck.

Kelly’s Depot Bar in Lowertown may soon be making way for a new six-story apartment building. Kelly’s has been a Lowertown fixture since 1920s, and at one time was a bar directly affiliated with the Hamm’s brewery. A Minneapolis-based development team is in talks with city officials to redevelop the property. One idea is to preserve some of the iconic Kelly’s features in a new structure.

A long-awaited opening took place in the former Wild Onion space on Grand Avenue. kindRED Hospitality, led by Luke Shimp, has opened his family’s second Red Rabbit restaurant. The rustic Italian spot with its wood-fired oven is a dramatic change from the lunch spot that transformed into a lively night spot. Don’t look for the old dance floor.

That block of Grand is going Italian as Hyacinth recently opened its doors to the east. Grand foodies are still waiting to hear what will happen to the longtime Bonfire spot, or to Grand Shanghai’s old digs. 

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