Bill to quash local labor regulations advances

Published 10:26 am Friday, February 3, 2017

By Tim Nelson

MPR News/90.1 FM

House Republicans at the state Capitol gave preliminary approval Thursday to a bill that would strike down the sick leave mandates put in place by Minneapolis and St. Paul last year.

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The so-called pre-emption measure would ban local employment regulation on minimum wage, unpaid leave and scheduling requirements. Bar owners, trucking company representatives and retailers said if the local regulations stand they would create an untenable patchwork of expensive labor law from city to city.

Deepak Nath, who owns the Pourhouse bar in Minneapolis, cited the ongoing movement to set a $15 minimum wage in Minneapolis.

“Allowing any city to create wage laws like this is picking winners and losers,” he told lawmakers. “I can’t afford rogue actions like this. We’re dispirited and broken down.”

Others said local regulations could put them at a financial disadvantage with competitors in other cities nearby. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce pointed out that pay rates were already on the rise and unemployment had fallen below 4 percent in the state, a sign they said existing statewide minimum wage raises were working.

But uniform regulations weren’t a benefit if they hurt workers, Katie Drahos said.

“As someone who works in the retail sector, I’ve been a number, and an easily replaceable number. This is a direct attack on the working class and democracy,” Drahos said.

The measure, sponsored in the House by Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, is retroactive to January of 2016, and would nullify the sick leave ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The Minnesota House jobs committee took more than two hours of testimony, much of it from state trade groups pushing for passage of the measure. Advocates for higher minimum wages, union representatives and social justice groups — the majority of testifiers on Thursday — opposed the measure.

Michael Law said he had a job with a St. Paul dairy, but lived in a low-income neighborhood just blocks from the Capitol, struggling with drugs and crime.

“I got my degree, but yet I’m still forced to fight for minimum wage jobs, against people like me with degrees,” he said. “(The) truth of the matter is that it’s about money. And this pre-emption bill is stopping people from making more money. The thing that will get them out of the streets — it’s more money.”

The measure goes next to the House government operations committee.

The Senate takes up its version at a Monday hearing.

Gov. Mark Dayton said last month he’s willing to discuss a statewide standard, but also said he’s not interested in a measure that would solely benefit businesses and employers.