Backers of $15 Minneapolis minimum wage ask judge to overturn council’s decision

Published 10:01 am Tuesday, August 9, 2016

By Erin Golden

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Supporters of a Minneapolis charter-amendment proposal to increase the city’s minimum wage have filed a legal complaint against the city, arguing that the City Council acted improperly in blocking the issue from the ballot.

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The complaint, filed Monday in Hennepin County District Court, asks that a judge order the council to reverse its decision and include the proposal on the ballot in November. Advocates from the groups 15 Now, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change and Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha had gathered the required number of signatures to send a charter-amendment question to voters. The proposal would raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next several years, making it among the highest in the country.

City Attorney Susan Segal, however, said the topic did not fit within legal requirements for a charter amendment. Last week, after a contentious committee meeting, a majority of council members voted in agreement with Segal’s opinion, saying the issue should not go to voters. Several council members said they supported a higher wage but believed it would have to be implemented through an ordinance passed by the council. The council instead voted to begin working on a minimum-wage ordinance, which it plans to vote on in 2017.

But in the complaint filed Monday, attorneys for the wage-hike supporters argue that the proposal does fall within the scope of the city’s charter, which outlines the framework for municipal government. (Ordinances, passed directly by the council, are not part of the charter.) They said minimum wage relates to the basic well-being and functioning of the city.

“Confirming the conclusion that raising the minimum wage in order to combat income inequality is sufficiently important to be included in a city’s fundamental law is the growing trend among states to enshrine higher minimum wages in their state constitutions,” the complaint says.

The complaint was filed by four people who signed the petition to put the issue on the ballot: Tyler Vasseur, Rosheeda Credit, Joshua Rea and Devon Jenkins. They asked for expedited court proceedings so a judge can rule before the city’s deadline to submit a charter amendment proposal for the ballot. That deadline is Aug. 26, though a decision would likely need to come sooner. The council’s last regular meeting before that date is Aug. 19.

In a statement, attorneys for the wage advocates said the council did not properly interpret previous court decisions on cases involving city charters.

“The Minneapolis workers and voters affected by this decision will ask the courts to recognize that there is no basis for the city’s position, which flies in the face of Minnesota Supreme Court case law, past practice in Minneapolis and other cities, and even the statements of the chair of Minneapolis’ Charter Commission,” said attorney Bruce Nestor.

The city is facing a similar action from supporters of a charter-amendment proposal that would require police to carry professional liability insurance.