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Debate Continues Over Paid Sick Time in Minneapolis

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Walking into Aster Cafe for one of what the Workplace Partnership Group is calling “listening sessions” on paid sick leave in Minneapolis, the concern and uncertainty was evident on the faces of most of those in attendance. They were, after all, mostly restaurant owners.

Though not against the idea of workers earning paid sick time, per se, many employers are worried about another layer of regulations on top of those already enforced at federal and state levels.

“Nobody, especially restaurant owners, want folks to come into work sick. But that's not really the issue,” said John Ella, a labor and employment law attorney in Minneapolis, when we later spoke by phone. Instead, it’s the burdensome nature of such policies when enacted at the city level. The complexities are many, with municipal mandates often overlapping or sometime contradictory to laws already on the books.

Cost is a real concern, too, as restaurant owners and other employers are still grappling with recent increases in Minnesota’s minimum wage, which will climb again, to $9.50, on August 1.

“Labor costs can literally make the difference between success or not,” noted Ella. “The concern in the face of my clients is they see that $15 minimum wage coming down in maybe the third phase of all this.”

Last fall, Minneapolis leaders approved a study, to be completed by March, to learn how a potential citywide minimum wage of $12 or $15 would impact the local economy.

Concerned about its members having to deal with a third layer of labor regulations at the city level, the Minnesota Restaurant Association will lobby in favor of a bill that would preempt local governments from imposing minimum wages or private-sector benefits in excess of state or federal government requirements when the state legislative session begins March 8.

Dan McElroy, executive vice president of the MRA, said the association is aligning itself with other business groups in the state who are concerned with a “patchwork” of local regulations. House and Senate versions of such a bill were introduced last year but didn’t gain much traction.

“It won’t be easy, but we’re going to work on it,” McElroy said.

Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kansas, Indiana, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Alabama—in addition to Florida and Wisconsin—have passed similar preemption laws, with eight of the 11 gaining adoption since 2013.

In Minneapolis, the Workplace Partnership Group continues to study the impact of a sick leave policy and is expected to make a recommendation to the city council by February 14.  

Find more coverage in the February issue of Foodservice News, and if you missed the hospitality listening session, additional meetings are coming up. See the full list of sessions and submit your comments to the city at www.minneapolismn.gov/workplacepartnership/index.htm.

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