Battle brewing over city’s Working Families Agenda

(From left) Corinne Horowitz of the Main Street Alliance of Minnesota; Julie Kearns of Junket: Tossed and Found; Frank Brown of Minuteman Press; and Danny Schwartzman of Common Roots Cafe at a press conference Thursday. Credit: Photo by Sarah McKenzie

Proposed city policies mandating paid sick time and fair scheduling for all employees in Minneapolis have sparked vigorous debate among businesses and a coalition of low-wage workers and their advocates.

A group of small business leaders held a press conference Thursday at Common Roots Café at 26th & Lyndale to express support for the measures — an event that later turned into a debate among business owners who also object to the proposals.

While specific ordinance language hasn’t been drafted yet by the city, in their current form the proposals apply to all employers in the city regardless of size unless collective bargaining agreements exempt them. The amount of sick time required would vary depending on the size of the employer and the fair scheduling measure requires employees get 28-days notice of upcoming schedules.

Danny Schwartzman, owner of Common Roots Café, said while he isn’t 100 percent behind the proposals as they are currently drafted, he agrees with the general intention of addressing the challenges faced by many low-wage workers in the city who have had to deal with egregious practices by employers. For instance, he thinks the proposed 28-day advance notice requirement for schedules is too burdensome and 14-days notice would be more workable.

His business already offers paid sick leave.

“We hope the city responds by adapting the ordinance to reflect the flexibility needs of small businesses like ours, while at the same time raising the floor by enhancing basic protections for workers who need regular schedules and sick time,” he said. 

Frank Brown, owner of Minuteman Press in Uptown, and Julie Kerns, owner of Junket: Tossed and Found in South Minneapolis, also spoke in support of establishing a set of standards all businesses must honor.

“We need a level-playing field that all Minneapolis workers can rely on — not just leaving these up to the whim of those business owners that are doing the right thing by their employees,” Brown said. “I feel strongly we need a set of policies that every business, big to small, must adhere to.”

They later debated a group of business leaders who attended the press conference to sound off on the proposals. They said the scheduling proposal would be unworkable for many businesses, particularly restaurants and outdoor businesses, since they can’t predict how busy they will be a month ahead of time or what the weather conditions will be.

Some of the critics of the proposals also attended a community forum at Mayflower Church in South Minneapolis on Wednesday night.

The proposals are part of the Working Families Agenda, a platform of ideas championed by Mayor Betsy Hodges and several City Council Members addressing concerns raised by low-wage, hourly workers who lack sick time and predictable schedules — employees who are predominately people of color.

More than a dozen organizations part of the #MplsWorks Coalition have been holding demonstrations throughout the city calling for action from City Hall.

The Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce and several other business associations, meanwhile, recently launched a campaign in opposition to the proposals called the Workforce Fairness Coalition.

City leaders are collecting feedback on the proposals and are expected to hold a public hearing on them in November.

At the Mayflower Church community forum, City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (Ward 8) said a growing number of cities and states are adopting paid sick leave laws. In Minneapolis, about 40 percent of workers lack paid sick leave, she said.

As for fair scheduling laws, 11 states have introduced bills, Glidden said. San Francisco also recently enacted a fair scheduling law as part of a Retail Workers Bill of Rights.

The proposals drew blunt criticism from business owners who lined up to share comments with Glidden and Council Members John Quincy and Linea Palmisano. They predicted the policies would kill jobs and deter businesses from launching in Minneapolis.

Todd Ferrara, vice president of Standard Heating and Air Conditioning, said he’s never seen such an “unrealistic proposal” in all his years working in the city given that many companies can’t predict how busy they will be a month out. He also said it seems unfair that non-union employers are targeted in the proposals.

“I think this is very misguided,” he said.

Saed Wadi, co-owner of the popular Lyndale restaurant and food truck World Street Kitchen, said businesses that treat their employees well shouldn’t be punished for the actions of bad actors in the city.

He said small businesses are the “engine of the city” and would suffer serious consequences if the proposals were enacted.

First Avenue owner Dayna Frank joked that it appears that the proposals were written by the City of St. Paul as a way to drive business away from Minneapolis. She said the proposed regulations would be “crippling” for the music venue and make it difficult to attract bands to the club.

A few people did stick up for the Working Families Agenda, including Christopher “Kip” Hedges, a former Delta Air Lines baggage handler who recently reached a settlement with the company over a lawsuit alleging he was fired for organizing and criticizing the company for paying ground workers low wages.

He said many workers in the city do face serious challenges negotiating for better working conditions — problems that are in effect causing a “two-tiered” economy in the city.

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Draft proposal highlights:

— Earned Sick Time: For employers with 21+ employees, employees may accrue up to 72 hours of sick time a year. Employers with fewer than 21 employees could earn up to a maximum of 40 hours. (Does not apply to employers with collective bargaining agreements waiving the law.)

— Fair scheduling: Employees must be given notice of schedule 28 days in advance and be notified of schedule changes within 24 hours. If a schedule is changed less than 24 hours’ notice, an employee must receive four hours of pay or the duration of the shift, whichever is less. Employers must offer hours to existing employees before hiring new or temporary employees.

Upcoming meetings on the proposals: 

— Council Members Elizabeth Glidden (Ward 8) and Lisa Bender (Ward 10), along with members of the #MplsWorks Coalition will be holding a meeting tonight, 6:30–8 p.m., in the Central neighborhood at 3736 Chicago Ave. S.

— Lyndale Business Association on Oct. 13, noon– 1 p.m., at the 5th Precinct, 3101 Nicollet Ave. S.

— The Uptown Association is also hosting a meeting with City Council Member Lisa Bender (Ward 10) about the proposed ordinances Tuesday, Oct. 13, 4–5 p.m., at the Apple Store, 3018 Hennepin Ave.

Share your thoughts:

— City staff are also taking comments on the proposals through Oct. 16. For more information and to submit feedback, go to www.minneapolismn.gov/workingfamiliesagenda or email [email protected]