Pivoting, Hodges now supports a citywide minimum wage hike

Mayor Betsy Hodges. File photo

Mayor Betsy Hodges pivoted from her former position on a citywide minimum wage proposal, announcing Monday she now supports a wage hike as long as it includes tipped workers.

Hodges previously opposed the city taking a go-it-alone approach, which some argue would put Minneapolis employers at a competitive disadvantage. But in a statement released Monday evening, the mayor acknowledged Republican victories in November made the path to a regional minimum-wage agreement “far narrower,” while at the same time the City Council is likely to pass a minimum wage ordinance in the first half of 2017.

“In the context of the dramatically changed state and national political landscape, I support a responsible, sustainable, single fair wage that does not penalize tipped workers,” she said.

Although several community groups have waged a months-long campaign for a $15 citywide minimum wage, it’s not clear whether the Council will land on that number next spring. That’s when they are expected to take up debate on the matter after a period of study and consultation with businesses and community members. Also unsettled is the pace at which higher wages would be phased-in.

Many of the City Council candidates who have already announced plans to run in 2017 support a $15 minimum wage. The vote, however, is expected in the second quarter of next year, several months before city elections.

Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, a leader in the local movement for a $15 minimum wage, described Hodges’ statement as “a step in the right direction that wouldn’t have happened without thousands of Minneapolis workers signing petitions, contacting their council members, and taking their case to the Minnesota Supreme Court.”

NOC was one of the groups trying to get a $15 minimum wage question placed on the November ballot via a proposed charter amendment, which would have phased in higher wages gradually between 2017 and 2021. But in August the state Supreme Court sided with Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal, who argued the minimum wage was not a “proper subject” for the city’s charter. In the wake of the ruling, NOC shifted its focus to passing a wage hike through an ordinance, organizing a series of rallies to pressure city policymakers.

Noting Hodges hadn’t said how high she’d like to see the city’s minimum wage set, NOC posted on its Facebook page Tuesday: “We need a $15 minimum wage to even begin to come close to the cost of living in Minneapolis.”

The Minnesota Restaurant Association released a statement expressing support for a “pathway” to a $15 minimum wage “over time.” But the association argued it was important that a wage policy “recognize restaurants and bars are a different type of business” because many employees earn a mix of hourly wages and tips.

The statement continued: “Our concern is that Mayor Hodges misunderstands how a tiered wage policy would benefit tipped workers by protecting their jobs and income.”

In her statement, Hodges argued tipped workers must be included because an ordinance passed in Minnesota’s largest city could set a template for statewide legislation. Noting that women make up a majority of workers earning some portion of their income in tips, she said a tiered wage structure could set a “harmful precedent that will hurt tipped workers statewide.”

“A Minneapolis minimum wage must do no harm,” she said.

Minneapolis Downtown Council CEO Steve Cramer said the mayor called him Monday before releasing the statement to explain her evolving thoughts on a minimum wage ordinance. While understanding Hodges wants to shape a policy that appears likely to have majority support on the Council, Cramer said the “island effect” of a Minneapolis-only wage hike remains a concern for the business community.

Asked how they would respond, Cramer said leaders in the business community continue to meet to discuss the matter and planned to remain actively involved in the development of any wage policy.